Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Alawite Question!

An interesting guest-post on Syria Comment raises the all too important issue of Alawite rule in Syria from the hence missing Alawite point of view. The post does a good job in summarizing Alawite concerns, and poses certain questions that members of the other communities in Syria are required to answer in order to convince the Alawites to take part in changing the situation in the country and turning against the Assads.

Indeed, the issue of the Sunni-Alawi Divide, or the Alawi-Everyone Else Divide if you like, is one of the main issues, if not the main issue, that needs to be addressed if peaceful change is to have a chance in the country. I have dealt with this issue on this blog repeatedly before, but I have to say that, oftentimes, the comments have tended to be too general and, hence, uninspiring.

I now believe that the best way to debate this issue is to hold a closed forum of well-known intellectuals and dissidents with the purpose of coming up with a draft for a national pact or charter where all these issues are directly addressed. We can, then, demand that Syrian opposition groups sign on to it. Those who do will be invited to attend a general conference (independent figures will come by themselves, while groups will be asked to send a delegation made up of no more than 10 representatives) where elections will be held to form a government-in-exile consisting of a parliament, a PM and a small cabinet.

The combination of a national charter and an elected government-in-exile might prove a good formula for attracting popular attention and support from across the political and communal spectrum in the country.

But, and in the process of discussing the relevant issues we need to take heed of several points:

* Despite the suspicion that many Alawites have vis-à-vis the Sunnis, in reality few Sunnis are actually anti-Alawites. Indeed, most of the dissidents in Syria are Sunnis, and for the first few years of Bashar rule, they would have been more than satisfied had he simply enacted some necessary political reforms. Since many of these Sunnis are actually secular, albeit rather conservative on many social issues, the continuation of the Alawite rule for a few more years would have served as a guarantor against Islamist rule. In reality, however, this was quite a delusional line of thought, and a way for Sunnis leaders to cop out on their responsibility towards their own community. For no one can really contain somebody else's fanatics. Be that as it may, the window has closed on this matter now. Most Sunni dissidents and opposition figures, inside the country and out, has moved on to adopt a full-fledge commitment to regime change.

* We also need to bear in mind that the perceptions with which we are dealing, while popular in their relevant quarters, are not necessarily historically accurate. Take the Alawite complaint about Sunni maltreatment of their ancestors for instance. This is simply a gross generalization. Indeed, both the abusing feudal lords in question and the abused peasants came from various communal backgrounds, including Christian, Ismaili and Sunni in addition to the Alawites. In fact, to this very day, relations among Ismailis and Alawites tend to be rather strained on account of this legacy, as evident by the various clashed that took place in late 2004. But demographics being what they are, Sunnis, on both sides were overrepresented. We still have to deal with the popular perceptions, of course, but we, the community leaders, whether elected or happy with this designation or not, cannot afford to subscribe to them ourselves. Otherwise our ability to hold meaningful discussions amongst ourselves will be severely undermined.

* It should be obvious here that should democratic elections eventually take place, they are bound to pave the way for a greater, even dominant, Sunni role in the decision-making process, demography being what it is. So, if people cannot deal with that, then, they’d better stop saying that they are really interested in democracy. But, and rather than betting on developing a system that will continue to sideline the majority, and hence increase their communal identification, we need to come up with certain new arrangements that are meant to prevent the rise of any form of authoritarian rule whether perpetrated in the name of a certain majority or a minority, however defined. A system of checks and balances based on public accountability, transparency, rule of law, and respect for basic freedoms is required here.

* A role for army meant to preserve the above system, as is the case in Turkey, might need to be envisioned here, even mandated for a certain period of time, to alley the fears prevalent among the various minority communities, not to mention the secular Sunnis, their political affiliations notwithstanding. But even this cannot be tolerated forever. In the final analysis, we all need to learn how to trust each other again and to build bridges between various communities and institutions that are meant to improve inter-community ties (our activities at the Tharwa Project come to mind here).

* The status quo is not going to hold forever, change is going to come sooner or later, and it will, in fact, be coming sooner than any of us might expect. After all, this 2006 AD not 1006 AD, things tend to happen at a rather faster pace. Dynasties do not last for 100 plus years anymore. So, the Alawites should advantage of the fact that they are in control at this stage, and should attempt to design the best possible deal for themselves. The more they wait, the more frustrated and radicalized the Sunnis will get, and the harder the possibility of holding talks and reaching agreements. Indeed, we should be mindful here that just as there are currents within the Alawite community that are suspicious of change, there are also currents within the Sunni community that want it at any price, an are wiling to wait for the right moment to get it all. These Sunni currents are currently flourishing in the country thanks to the patronage of the Assads who think that they can control them. This is quite delusional of course. The only people who can contain these Sunni fanatics, as we have noted above, are the Sunni moderates, and the only way for the Sunni moderates to be empowered to do so is through a deal with the Alawites that will give them the role in the decision-making process that is more commensurate with their demographic and economic realities. Just as the Sunnis cannot get rid off the Assads on their own, the Alawites cannot contain the fanatic Sunnis on their own. Now more than ever, the moderates on all sides need each other.

In the struggle to contain the looming crisis ahead we need to learn that time is not on our side, and that the only way it could come to our side is when we initiate the right process and take charge of our lives. We have not done that in quite a while now, and look where we ended up!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Should Syria and Israel Start Peace Talks Now?

My latest contribution to the Creative Syria Think Tank is up and running, alongside those of my dear friend, Ibrahim Hamidi, Patrick Seale and Ghayth Armanazi. As usual, people can read and vote on the various contributions.

How should the two countries plan for the talks in order to enhance the chances of success? What other related issues should be dealt with as part of the final solution?

In order to answer this question in a meaningful manner, we should bear in mind that neither Syria nor Israel can actually plan such a major undertaking without first consulting their respective allies and supporters, namely Iran and the United States. Moreover, we should not be oblivious here as the current regional context in which these talks are to be held, namely: the ongoing investigation into the assassination for former Lebanese PM, Rafic al-Hariri, and the current stand-off with Iran regarding its nuclear programs and its regional ambitions.

Looking at the issue of talks from this prism raises several important points: can Syria conclude peace with Israel without the approval of its only remaining regional ally? Can the Assads really turn their back on their Iranian backers, not to mention Hezbollah, Hamas, and other radical groups that stood by them in their time of need?

As a matter of principles the Assads have always been willing to betray their allies and stab them in the backs, the Palestinians and the Lebanese have closet-full of stories in this regard. But then, principles are not really what’s at stake here, this is more about the realities that now exist on the ground, realities that are much different than those that existed back in 1991.

Indeed, in the interim period, especially in the years following the rise of Bashar al-Assad to power in Syria, relations with Iran assumed a different dimension for Syria. The parity between the two regimes gradually dissolved in favor of Iran, until, and in the last year, the entire relation was transformed, if not transmogrified on account of that little voodoo that Bashar & Co. managed to do, into a master-client relationship, along of the lines of the existing relations between Iran and Hezbollah. Worse. While Hezbollah, as a non-state actor, is free to develop its own tactics and plan its own moves, so long as they occur within the strategy set in cooperation with its main backers in Iran, and to a lesser extant, Syria, the Assads, in their newly acquired status as vassals, seem more obliged to pass all major decisions by the Iranians at this stage.

Syria and Iran has signed a mutual defense pact, which both sides seem to take pretty seriously, albeit for different reasons. Moreover, Iran is currently supplying the Syrian Republican Guard with much new and advanced weaponry, especially rockets and missiles. (Iran and, to a lesser extant, North Korea are Syria’s only remaining arms suppliers at this stage. The Russians talk about sending weapons, but so far no action has (has) taken place). As such, major decisions made by the Assads will have a major impact on Iran, more so than Hezbollah’s. Iran may not go to war on the Assads’ behalf, but they will try to support them by supplying them with arms, and motioning their allies in Lebanon and Iraq to bring the situation in their respective countries to a boil when circumstances warrant. The Iranians have also been quite busy since the visit to Syria by Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, buying up loyalties in the Syrian army and security apparatuses, by putting various business deals in the way of high-raking generals and their front men, including both Assef Chawkat and Maher al-Assad.

Indeed, the graft and corruption aspect in this entire sordid affair plays a very important role here, which should not be surprising really considering the Assads’ penchant for confusing their private business interests with the national interest. Iran now has major investments in Syria in a variety of sectors, including car-export and manufacturing as well as supplying different types of machinery and supplies to Syria’s rundown factories.

From all the above, it becomes clear that the notion that the Assads can act independently of the Iranians at this stage is nothing less than absurd. There will be hell to pay should they even try. The Iranians can play them against each other, can undermine their hold on power by activating their myriad agents in the country, and they can even create a crisis of legitimacy for them inside the Alawite community. After all, all these Iraqi and Lebanese preachers from Qom who have been busy converting Sunni villages to Twelver Shiism, has also been equally busy communicating with their Alawite counterparts, and many local Alawite shrines have been renovated thanks to donations from Iran, despite the religious differences between the Alawites and the Shia.

The Iranians then, got the Assads by the balls, by the throat and by everything they can lay their hands on, and they have no plans to let go anytime soon, if ever. They simply have too much riding on the Assads and on their potential usability as Iran’s first line of defense to let them stray too far.

(Let’s bear in mind here the fate of the late Lebanese President, Bashir Gemayel, after he signed a peace agreement with Israel contrary to Syria’s wishes. Iran will not let Syria go solo for very much the same reasons. They need Syria to keep on singing their tunes until their own problems with the international community are resolved. Indeed, Hafiz al-Assad’s shoes as a playmaker in regional politics were not filled by his son Bashar, but Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is the one who holds all the important cards now, and the current confrontational mood we see today in both Syria and Iran is the result of well-orchestrated policy on his part).

Popular perceptions will also play a role here. For having whipped up nationalist fervors to such a high extent in the last few weeks over the developments in Lebanon, the Assads simply cannot afford to turn their backs against their former allies so callously. Indeed, the Syrian public may not care much about the Iranians per se, but it does care about Nasrallah. Of course, the Assads cannot turn their back on one without the other. Betraying Nasrallah after confiscating his victory will be too damaging to the Assads’ internal image, which has, all of the sudden, become somewhat bright due to the Assads’ nationalist stand and their fallback on the rhetoric of national resistance.

The Assads simply do not have the strength and flexibility needed to turn on a dime and reverse all their erstwhile positions and actually get away with it.

Not that they are really inclined to do any of this. For in reality, the Assads realize that Iran is their only backer and they cannot just give up on it. On the contrary, their “faith” in this relationship has emboldened them to take rhetorical stands, not only vis-à-vis the US, France and Israel, but also Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Moreover, the Assads are also too paranoid to take a gamble on the basis of Israeli and US assurances, should they ever materialize that is, and they have plenty of reasons to justify their paranoia. They are already under international isolation and the Americans have been openly talking about regime change in Syria for years now. Since this is, naturally, the product of a Zionist conspiracy for them, they cannot trust Israel as well.

We also need to factor here the reality that the Assads might just be more interested in a return to Lebanon than to the Golan, and they will probably spend more time negotiating on this matter than on anything else. Indeed, the recent defiant and bellicose speech delivered by the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, focused much more on the Lebanese issue than on the Golan. Lebanon is simply much more profitable to the ruling clique than the Golan could ever be.

Bashar waxed even more belligerent and confident in his interview with Dubai TV, in which he criticized the Israelis and the Bush Administration, declared his opposition for deploying peacekeepers and monitors along the Syrian-Lebanese borders, and asserted that popular resistance will be the option should the peace process remain halted, and that the upcoming weeks and months will be decisive in this regard.

For all these considerations, then, the only possible way for talks to take place is through a new regional peace process, one that has to include Iran as well. The region needs to have all of its outstanding problems address and resolved now, a piecemeal approach will not work, because the issues are interlocking and there are simply too many states and parties around that can play the role of spoilers, if they had to.

Yet a Madrid II will not be enough here, for the US will lose all credibility it has left, should it back a purely political process, one that does not take under consideration the need for political reform and openness in the countries involved. What is needed here, then, is a mixture of Madrid I and the Barcelona Process, with monitoring mechanisms and some manner of holding states accountable to their failure in living up to their commitments, especially with regard to internal reforms.

But, unless Israel, the US and the EU are willing to sit down and negotiate directly with Iran as well, then peace in the region has no chance and bilateral talks between Israel and Syria, should they ever take place, will go nowhere. The very notion is indeed ludicrous.

(But just for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that the Assads did indeed decide to take parts in peace talks, the Israelis still need to ask themselves this: with the perception of victory that the Assads have at this stage, with Iran on their side, with the possibility of opening the Golan Front now on the table, and considering the fact that, for the first time since 1967 at least, it is Israel that seems to be testing the waters for launching peace talks, what sort of attitude will the Assads bring with them to the negotiating table? Will they really be in a mood to compromise? Or, will the Israelis be willing to give the bulk of compromises this time around? True, the Syrians and the Iranians will be confident even should wider talks occur, but considering the complexity of the issues that will be involved in that case, initial triumphalism will soon be offset by the need to make some tough compromises).

Other complicating factors in this regard is the fact that the Iranian leadership seems hell-bent on developing its nuclear program regardless of what the international community has to say about that, this may not leave much room for compromise here. Meanwhile, the UN inquiry into the assassination of Rafic al-Hariri, which is quite an independent activity no matter what the conspiratorial minds in our region happen to think, will likely produce results that are too embarrassing for the Assad regime and which the international community cannot ignore, even if it wanted to. The whole affair is simply all too public.

So, taking all the above under consideration, how realistic is the prospect for such a major initiative in the near future?

Well, considering how regional and international actors have spent the last few years making diplomacy irrelevant, through a combination of unilateral actions and preemptive moves, all halfheartedly implemented and callously and poorly managed, the reactivation of the role of diplomacy at this stage seems to require more leadership skills and a much clearer vision than what is currently available in all relevant quarters.

So, ladies and gentlemen of the policymaking circles in the world, enjoy the fruits of your labor for the last few years, and be brave enough to face the consequences of your policies. Indeed, instead of fooling ourselves into thinking that peace is still possible, by some miracle, let’s just prepare for the oncoming war, which we have made all but inevitable. There is nothing worse than being taken by surprise when all hell breaks loose.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Waiting for the Next Move!

The recent declarations by Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad and Assad mark a noticeable decrease in the levels of bellicosity and belligerence in comparison to their erstwhile discourse. Indeed, none of these men has backed down from his declared stands on the all too important issues of resistance and the nuclear capabilities, but their statements did, nonetheless, contain some startling reversals of recent positions and attitudes.

For when Ahmadinejad declares that Iran does not pose a threat "to anybody, not even to the Zionist regime," a mere few weeks after he had called for its destruction, one really has to wonder as to the real significance of this apparent contradiction. Is it only meant to buy time, or has the Mullah establishment opted to adopt a softer more pragmatic stand vis-à-vis the Zionist entity, on the basis of their own assessment of the results of Hezbollah War?

And when Nasrallah himself declares that he would not have ordered the capture of the two Israeli soldiers had he known that the Israeli response would be so destructive, that the South will not witness any manifest sign of militarism while the Lebanese army is there, and that Hezbollah is not preparing for new showdown with the Israelis, this definitely marks an important acknowledgement of the changing realities in Lebanon as a result of the recent “victory.”

And seeing that Bashar had already attempted to back down from his recent dismissal and assault on Arab leaders, one really cannot ignore the emerging pattern here. The key figures in the Resistance Alliance are clearly acting in unison and in accordance with a clearly laid out strategy drawn by the Iranians.

The Alliance is moving to capitalize on its perceived victory by trying to sound more soft, reasonable and pragmatic and, hence, appealing, to some segments of the policy-making community in each one of the key countries involved in the current crisis, especially the United States. The move is designed, naturally, to buy time, enough time, two to three more years to be specific, to produce that first bomb, to conduct that first test, and to change the entire dynamics of the situation and allow for the final emergence of a full-fledged regional power, complete with satellite states and all, that has literally and figuratively been dying to do so ever since that blessed revolution of ’79, if not really before, after all, the Shah had had his regional dreams and ambitions too.

Will the world allow for this emergence to take place, or will it seek to delay or even abort it once and for all? The next few weeks might carry a semblance of an answer. But for now, the momentum seems to be on the side of the Alliance.


We have just reactivated the "Virtual Syria" (Arabic) blog on the Tharwa Community, and just launched the "Whereto, Syria?" (Arabic and English) blog.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Of Grand Visions & Miniscule Leaders!

Many Israelis seem to be interested in advocating talks with Syria these days, including my former colleague at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, Avi Dichter, not to mention my other former colleague, but always the friend, Flynt Leverett, who wrote quite an analysis of US foreign policy in the latest issue of the American Prospect calling for the adoption of a new vision and a new approach, especially to the Middle East.

Now this might come as a surprise for some, but I actually have no problem with the resumption of Syrian-Israeli peace talks provided certain conditions are met, namely that they take place within the framework of a wider regional initiative that includes Iran, and that the issues of internal reforms is put on the table.

In other words, I want a combination of the Barcelona and Madrid processes, and I want some monitoring mechanism to be included as well and some manner of holding states accountable to their failure in living up to their commitments, especially with regard to internal reforms. This development will still not deliver democracy, I know, but it will give us a real chance to work it out peacefully from within, or so I hope.

Indeed, I started my career as an activist exactly by advocating the necessity for launching such an initiative, with both European and American involvement and sponsorship, and I have attended more conferences that I can remember where my colleagues from across the region and I sat down with European and American policy advisors and wrote papers upon papers and proposals upon proposal and commissioned studies upon studies, then sent them up the ladder using all appropriate channels, only to get saddled with vague declarations and initiatives such as the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative and the Foundation for the Future, which, as significant as they are, remain woefully insufficient and fall far short of what is really needed. Follow through has always been lacking as well. The will to wage peace is not as present as that to wage war. Key people got easily distracted, and the powers that be continue to have conflicting agendas and interests.

So, we, the liberal activists, slowly drifted away to focusing on smaller initiative based on the political situation in our respective countries in the hope of bringing about a small change there that would help us advocate our agenda on a more national level. To no avail. Our leaders were all too idiotic and corrupt, and too mired in their own intenral calculations and particularistic interests to be able to deliver on promises of reform.

Leadership and vision. The world seems all too lacking in both, at a time when these two qualities are needed most. This is the essence of our contemporary dilemma I guess. Rather than managing the New World Order and building it ourselves, the New World Order is managing us and introducing itself upon us and at our expense, especially with regards to the peoples of the developing world.

But in reality, politicians do not seem capable anymore, if they have ever been, of formulating the grand visions needed today. In our hope to democratize the world and to bring greater harmony to it, and for the sake of introducing and supporting liberal and liberating ideals, the relevant visions and leadership need to be provided by independent civil actors and organizations working across boundary lines, just as in the case with transitional fundamentalist movements and terrorist cells. Non-state actors and movements working for the sake of radical causes can only be effectively combated through a parallel development on the liberal end. States, big and small, are often part of the problem, and all need to be challenged and pushed in the right direction.

No, I am not speaking here as an anti-globalization activist, but as a pro-globalization activist, a reality that illustrates just how complex a mission we have ahead of us. There are simply too many ideologies and movements and personalities involved, and too many internecine clashes to allow for a smooth and speedy transition. Harmonizing them all into a solid pragmatic movement, rather than an ideological one, will take time, a lot of time.

Meanwhile, we have no choice but to work in tandem on our little projects in the hope of achieving one little breakthrough here or there to help build a momentum for change.

For me, a peace accord between the Assads and Israel outside the regional context outlined above will constitute an unmitigated disaster for the cause of human rights and political reform in Syria and will have major repercussions on our ability as activists to push for any kind of meaningful participation in the decision-making process in the country. Still, I am not overly worried about that, for the current talk in the Israeli side reflects nothing but an Israeli dilemma centered on the inability of the current Israeli leaders to provide the needed leadership and vision for the future of their country.

Still, even should talks end up taking place one day, I wouldn’t be worried, because I know the other side of the equation all too well, and I know that I can always count on their stupidity not to do the right thing, even for themselves.

Moreover, the Assads are no longer in a position to do any deals by themselves these days seeing that their decisions are now made on their behalf in Tehran. The Assads have irrevocably tied their fortunes to Iran, without it they have no leg to stand on. And the Iranians are not so stupid as to supply weapons and arms to a regime that is not securely in their pocket. On a related note, if people really want to drive a wedge between the Syria and Iranian regimes, they should be more quiet about it. Such goals cannot be pursued in full light of day. But in the absence of back channels to either regimes speculations might be the only alternative that the Bush Administration has.

Peace has no chance in these circumstances.

Taking the Real Initiative!

Because we have long stopped taking the initiative, because we always wait for the perfect deal to be put in our lap, because we continue to refuse to challenge the system and the status quo and prefer to resign ourselves to what we have or allowed to have, our leaders have become nothing more than incompetent, corrupt and sadistic nincompoops adept only at oppressing us and stealing our land’s resources and whatever foreign crumbs that are sent our way as “development aid.”

And because our leaders seem to have dealt with the outsides world with the same lack of imagination and initiative with which we tended to deal with them (and why not? After all, our leaders do not come from a different planet), our fate as viable and sovereign states seems to be forever tied to developments beyond our control.

For example, because Hafiz al-Assad did not “run towards peace” in the 90s, since that would not have looked too "dignified," even though it is indeed our land and our people that are under occupation, our fate was repeatedly sealed by individual developments, including the assassination of Israeli PM Yitshak Rabin by a deranged individual and getting cold feet with regard to the case of Israeli PM Ehud Barak.

Indeed, we took the initiative only twice in this conflict. Unsurprisingly, both initiatives were purely military. The first time paved the way for an unmitigated disaster, from our point of view of course. This was the Arab-led war of 1948. The second time came in 1973 when only Egypt managed to actually capitalize on the initial military coup that transpired in the early phase of the war. The Egyptians succeeded in this on account of their President Anwar al-Sadat’s diplomatic boldness in the years following the conclusion of the war, and his willingness to go the distance and “force” the Israelis to come to terms with the eventuality of having to return the occupied Sinai in full.

For his part, Hafiz al-Assad failed to be make himself relevant to the process. Some analysts seem to suggest that, for all his smarts, Assad Sr. allowed himself to be maneuvered out of the ongoing talks by Kissinger and others. Perhaps this is true, but that only serves to illustrate the point about the necessity of taking the initiative and of being proactive, and not waiting for the perfect deal to begin with, not to mention waiting for it to be handed to you by others.

As for our current “victory,” well, in pure military terms, it led to nothing but a stand-off that is still open on all possibility: the good, the bad, and the ugly. But for it to develop into a real diplomatic coup that could indeed pave the way for saving Lebanon from the impending mayhem in the region, taking it once and for all out of the conflict equation, Lebanon’s current leaders should themselves come out with a strong proposal for peace with Israel. There is ample justification for this move at this stage, including the necessity of capitalizing on the said “victory” to achieve the liberation of the Shebaa Farms and the return of the Lebanese prisoners still languishing in Israeli jails. The disarmament of Hezbollah, in full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, will have to be part of the deal, of course, and that is indeed the tricky part.

But, if concluded, a peace accord with Israel, and no matter how retroactively, will help mitigate the recent havoc that was wrought on Lebanon and some meaning might still emerge out of this seemingly senseless venture.
Indeed, the risks involved in such a process are as high as the stakes. And, for all practical purposes, the Lebanese PM, Fouad Siniora, will have to emerge as the potential champion or fall-guy in this scenario. But the potential dividends of peace might be worth the risk.

Indeed, Fouad Siniora’s latest statements in Stockholm and his allusion that a wise Israeli policy could help pave the way for real peace might indicate that he is inclined to take such a step. Should he do that, it will be up to regional powers such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and international powers, such as the US and France, to protect and support him.

For while the necessary criteria for holding a Madrid II Conference seem to be absent, especially with regard to the quality of the currently available regional and international leaders, the criteria for such smaller step may not. But if they are, then, Armageddon is indeed upon us, and the Hour is Very Nigh.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Countdown to Armageddon!

The arguments I made in this article on the BitterLemons-International news service, have been bolstered by the speech recently delivered by our national imbecile. Moreover, the bellicose tones of Bashar’s speech have themselves been bolstered and taken to their logical conclusion by an editorial in the official newspaper, al-Thawrah, that appeared on the following day. The editorial issued a very straightforward threat against Israel. Indeed, the threat/call for launching a Hezbollah-style campaign in the Golan was indeed the main theme.

So, are the Assads seriously contemplating such an option? Or have they inadvertently helped foster an environment that is amiable, interested, ready and desperately dying to push the envelope in this matter for reasons of national pride?

Time will tell, and we may not have to wait for long.


Countdown to Armageddon
Ammar Abdulhamid

The rise of President Bashar Assad to power in Syria in 2000, which coincided with the collapse of the peace process and the rise of Ariel Sharon in Israel, signaled a gradual return to policies of confrontation with the international community and with Israel.

The reasons for this are numerous and are not all related to the internal makeup of the Syrian regime. Nevertheless, that issue does figure highly in this regard and should not be dismissed, lest this impede judgment regarding the current Syrian role in the region. Indeed, the minoritarian character of the Syrian regime and its consolidation around the private interests of one particular family, the Assad-Makhlouf clan, have served from the very beginning to undercut the potential for serious reform in the country.

The insistence on keeping things in the family and transferring power from father to son, all consideration of republican norms notwithstanding, has served to establish severe limits on the ability of the new president. But then, ever since his (s)election, Bashar has not missed an opportunity to show that he is a true believer in the system and in the mandate and mission assigned to him.

This is why he turned against all dissidents and reformers in early 2001, wholeheartedly embraced the Aqsa Intifada, allowed people like Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to roam freely in Syria and transformed the relationship with Hizballah from that of master-client to a strategic alliance. Moreover, Bashar never turned his back on the possibility of getting himself embroiled in regional mayhem and controversy. As was the case with his father, the legitimacy that could not be received from internal successes and reforms now needed to be derived from external sources, namely from a continuing focus of energies and attention on the Arab-Israel conflict.

This explains why the president went overboard in his criticism of the US-led invasion of Iraq and lent so much support to the Iraqi "resistance", inviting other Arab states to follow his lead. This also explains his continuing willingness to support radical Palestinian groups and, of course, Hizballah. Indeed, the more pressures the new president and the ruling family have perceived, the more radical their stands and policies have become. The point of no return, if there ever was one, came with the assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafiq Hariri, a development that put the entire ruling family in the line of suspects.

After that, there was no end to how radical the Assad regime was willing to become. It was now facing an existential threat par excellence. The rise of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad and his subsequent visit to Syria on January 19 gave both regimes the opportunity to consolidate their alliance and to extend it to formally include Hizballah and the radical wing of Hamas. A decision seems to have been made to escalate matters further in Gaza and the Shebaa Farms in the hope of diverting international attention from these regimes and bringing about an acceptance of the status quo they represented, even as they consolidated their grip on power.

While current developments seem more than what these regimes and parties bargained for, they are also heaven-sent, hence their increased vociferousness, belligerence and confidence.

Indeed, as the recent declaration made by the Syrian foreign minister during his brief visit to Lebanon indicates, the prospect of a wider regional war is something these regimes actually welcome. For the strong showing that Hizballah has made, the destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure notwithstanding, is encouragement enough for these regimes, with their minds and hearts still stuck in the 1980s, to revive the old dream of defeating Israel militarily through involvement in a war of attrition and thus achieving military glory that will boost their credentials both at home and abroad. With the US caught in the Iraqi quagmire and its power seemingly neutralized as a result, this prospect might appear more and more tempting with each passing day.

In fact, the Assads seem to be actively preparing for this eventuality. They have already called up large reserve cohorts that are busy digging trenches all around the country, and they are currently preparing public opinion for this possibility and cultivating their support thereof. Thus, calls to reopen the Golan front are routinely reiterated during the Friday sermons, and communist and nationalist groups have recently joined the chorus.

So, even if the US and Israel seem uninterested in bringing about such a conflagration, their desires, wishes and interests are not the only factors that matter here. There is indeed another side involved, a full fledged alliance in fact, whose leaders seem to think that war, regardless of its potentially high cost in human and material terms, will serve their interests. The more troubles Israel has in Lebanon and the US in Iraq, the more convinced these leaders will be of the "wisdom" and necessity of war.- Published 17/8/2006 ©

Ammar Abdulhamid is a Syrian blogger and dissident. He runs the Tharwa Foundation, an independent initiative that focuses on diversity issues in the region, and is a non-resident fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Reactions to “The Imbecile!”

My latest post seems to have hit a rather raw nerve among some of my readers so much so that I think a new post needs to be dedicated to the subject.

Yet indeed, and as Yaman has pointed out, calling Bashar the village idiot is actually not a purely emotional reaction on my part. Rather, it comes as a rational conclusion that I reached on the basis of own observations of Bashar’s behavior and my own contact with him, albeit somewhat limited, when we were at school – I called him an idiot then too and to his face. So, I am merely carrying out a tradition of sorts.

My description of Bashar is also based on my impression of the people around him, I have met many of them through years, especially during that the short period of interrogations that I had to go through in the first part of 2005, and many of them were no less the imbeciles than he is, which makes a lot of things really, considering the dictators’ knack for surrounding themselves with like-minded people - pale images of themselves.

Moreover, this impression of mine is not really so unique, just read what this little summary of official and popular regional reactions to Bashar’s latest gem and you’ll find out (sorry it is in available only in Arabic).

But to satisfy the request made by Engineering Change, let me just summarize here why I think Bashar is indeed an idiot and an imbecile on the basis of the current developments:

  1. * His speech angered so many people in the international community that, instead of benefiting from the dissatisfaction of some Europeans with current US policies in the region and driving a wedge between the two, he turned them against him, including the Germans who were just trying to engage the Assads regime.
  2. ** His speech served to further alienate Syria from Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, while a more rational and calm speech, coupling a more benign criticism of these countries recent attitudes vis-à-vis the Assads (mostly for popular consumption in Syria) with a call for unity and solidarity with a Lebanese and Palestinian people, and for putting past differences aside, would have made it easier for the rulers of these countries to reengage the Assads and to defend them in international circles. Indeed, neither the Saudis, nor the Egyptians nor the Jordanians want to see regime change or instability in Syria, but Bashar keeps on pushing on this direction, hedging his bets completely on his Iranian allies, not to mention Hezbollah and Hamas. Now, pardon me if I think this is dumb. But it is. Now even the official press in Egypt and Saudi Arabia are criticizing Bashar and not always politely.
  3. *** By attacking the March 14 crowd, he is making their argument for them, that the Assads won’t stop interfering in Lebanon. Also, he managed to baffle and upset some of his very supporters in Lebanon, such as Salim al-Hoss and the editor of al-Safir newspaper who contrasted Bashar’s speech with that of Nasrallah, which was more conciliatory in tone from a Lebanese perspective. This constant comparison between Bashar and Nasrallah is really going to hurt him on the long run. Nasrallah is a man of action and he has accomplished some of the things he promised in his speeches. Bashar will be hard pressed to do the same. Failing that, he will look more and more like the charlatan that he truly is. Now, when you put yourself in this position and you invite such a comparison, you simply must be dumb.

Now what did Bashar gain out of all this? The support of the Syrian people? Well, true, the Syrian people in their support of Bashar may not be as fickle as the Iraqis in their support of Saddam, but fickle they are, just as they were in their support of his father all through the 80s. When push comes to shove, and despite the higher proportions of 20-somethigns in the country, Bashar will have little popular support. And guess what? If and when the dreaded push comes to the yearning shove, this will not materialize as a result of any lobbying by the opposition groups, but as a result of the Assads’ own actions. And this is the quintessence of dumb. The Assads are bringing upon themselves and the rest of us, a calamity that even their enemies want them to avoid. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

Now, for all those people who were angry with my post, I say “damn it, it’s about time!” Where the hell were you guys? I have been lambasting this idiot for quite a while now, and it’s about time that someone got unnerved by that. After all, he must have some supporters somewhere who would be interested in defending his illusory and elusive honor.

Teasing aside though, let me be clear here: I want you, whoever you are and regardless of the nature of your loyalties, your ethnic affiliations, your professional backgrounds, your age and your gender, I want you to be angry. It does not matter in the least to me if your anger is aimed at me at this stage. After all, I am not running for president. So, think me the Anti-Christ, if you will, what possible difference will it make to me?

My relevance, as a heretic, is not premised on popular support, but on popular resentment, and my message has never been intended to be popular, but to unite a certain like-minded few who, like me, are willing to push the envelope, people who are willing to allow me to do things my way, while they do things their way, but where the basic message remains the same: the need for challenging the status quo, for breaking the stalemate, for focusing on our real problems and on developmental issues.

Already one of you accused me of “racism,” because he could detect in my discourse, a rather dismissive urban attitude vis-à-vis the Assads, who, as we all know, come from a rural background. Wonderful! There is indeed much truth here, if not about me, then about how many people in Syria, in the major urban centers in particular, feel indeed about the Assads and their supporters.

We have a major problem in Syria related to our diversity, whether defined along ethnic lines, provincial lines, religious lines, class lines, educational lines and/or professional lines. These are serious issues. We all suffer from major prejudices emanating from our particular backgrounds, and he who will claim to be completely innocent and free of that is a liar. Many of us do try to be above these matters, and we, sometimes, think that we have succeeded, but then, something happens, a little personal incident, or some major national one, and we find out that we have much to learn yet.

Prejudices like ours are so deeply rooted in our daily life and culture that they cannot be neutralized so easily. Just ask White, Black, Hispanic and Asian America, among the many other Americas out here, about this. The Americans have developed quite the extensive literature on this matter. But the only thing we seem to have developed in this regard is a culture of silence, denial and inaction, where all problems continue to fester until they blow up one sure and dismal day in our faces.

So, my question to my accuser is: do you really think you are innocent of the crime of which you accuse me?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Imbecile!

Our six year long scientific experiment in Syria aimed at turning a certain village idiot into a full fledged national leader has hit another snag yesterday when the idiot managed to break his month-long, and not too voluntary, silence and speak out. For, as usual, the National Imbecile with which we are currently blessed ended up putting his anus in it, and the world was there to see and hear.

As a result, the German Foreign Minister cancelled his scheduled trip to Damascus, proclaiming that “[t]he speech today by Syrian President Assad is a negative contribution that is not in any way justified in view of the current challenges and opportunities in the Middle East… That's why I decided not to travel to Damascus now.”

Coupled with his virulent attack against the Bush Administration and the French President, or as Bashar referred to him, the “French official,” all this talk about engagement and cutting a deal with the Assads have just been effectively nullified. Dare I say: “I told you so?

Of course, the diehard assortment of optimists, Bush-baiters and US-haters will continue to strive to find excuses to defend engaging our national imbecile, but I think that a consensus is slowly emerging in the policy-making circles in the US and the EU to the effect that the Assads are simply unengageable and that they need to continue to be kept under lock and key in our growing regional zoo.

I also think that the main players involved here, the US, France, Britain (but, strangely enough, still not Israel) will not mind too much should they see some activity taking place on the ground in certain parts in Syria meant to undermine the hold of the Assads on power, all fears of instability aside. For the Assads have made all too clear now that if these actors do not take the fight to the Assads, the Assads will bring the fight to them, albeit by proxy, for we all know by now how cowardly this leonine lot is.

Indeed this cowardliness, manifested in the willingness to ride on the back of Hezbollah and to reiterate rhetoric of resistance over and over again while refusing to live up to it through action on the Golan Front, is exactly where the Assads are becoming all too vulnerable.

Indeed, in his most recent statements, the Syrian Foreign Minister accused all people calling for opening the Golan of seeking to implement a plan to “strike Syria,” notwithstanding the fact these calls have been reiterated by the countries most respected religious leaders and a whole assortment of the country’s nationalist and communist movements and intellectuals.

The Assads, it seems, want to bask in the glow of resistance without paying its price, as per the old tactic perfected by the late family patriarch. Unfortunately though, the times and the people have changed, and if our national imbecile appears popular now, just wait until more and more people from regional states whose policies he assaulted, like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, begin to speak out against his arrogance and cowardice, as some have indeed done (on TV). For as more and more people continue to point out the emptiness of our imbecile’s rhetoric, and no matter how defensive people might get at first, this fake aura of heroism that Bashar & Co. are currently basking under will begin to fade, and people are not necessarily as imbeciles as their leaders, the hierarchy of their basic needs notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, and just as a reminder of what’s really at stake here for the ruling family, recent reports show that the imbecile’s cousin has finally achieved his dream of controlling the car-import business in the country.

On a related note, the claims of victory by Hezbollah and supporters, have emboldened another two-but dictator out there, namely: the Sudanese president. Indeed, Omar al-Bashir has just threatened to launch a Hezbollah-style war against any international troops that would be positioned in Western Darfur. Indeed, the price of defeat, or even the mere perception thereof in our region is all too costly.

Lost in Jubilation!

As always in our turbulent region, victory is in the eye of the beholder, and we so desperately need to feel victorious we are willing to see victory even in ruins. No wonder our victors have recently been nothing more than charlatans, thieves and murderers. Indeed, neither victory nor victors are what they used to be. As the old saying goes: “The times are no longer the times, and men no longer the men (la al-dinyeh dinyeh, wa la al-naas naas).” Civilization in these parts has gotten so bloody old, it seems, the gift of victory has much depreciated in value over time.

But above all, we need to beware clerics when they come bearing such gifts. For holy victories, especially when so surreal, tend to pave the way to holy hell. And we have just had about enough holiness and hell in our lives, a little heresy could indeed go a long way in improving our lot.

But who is listening these days? Who is listening? Oh where are the attentive ears of yesteryear?

Deafened by the tumult of jingoistic celebrations I presume.

But lost amidst all this jubilation over our all too Orwellian realities, where defeat is victory, democracy slavery and ignorance a holy bliss, is the fact that the hopes and aspirations of few more generations of young Arab and Middle Eastern youths have just been dashed. It won’t take long before the reality of this hit home for those concerned and, once it does, their anger will simply transform them into the fine fodder which better suit their nurture and the purpose for which they have always been prepared - the war/peace our leaders crave to ensure their survival.

Then the region-wide fireworks will truly commence.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Wagging the Lions!

Assuming that things go as planned, UNSC Resolution 1701 will deliver to Israel in political terms what its troops could not achieve in military ones, namely: the neutralization of the Hezbollah Effect. For the costs of rebuilding what has been destroyed and of resettling and compensating the displaced population is bound to be very high and will occupy Hezbollah, among other Lebanese actors, for many years to come.

For those who bet on a Hezbollah victory, especially Iran and Syria, this clearly spells defeat. For the focus on international attention will turn once again to the outstanding issues at hand, the Hariri investigation, which is simply too much of a public affair to kill, as many had been predicting and hoping, and the Iranian nuclear program. In order to avoid this, the Assads and the Mullahs have to find a new game to keep world attention focused elsewhere, and to the Mullahs, this means wagging the Assads again.

This wagging will more likely assume the guise of a renewed attempt at instigating a civil conflict in Lebanon, so that the Assads can make themselves relevant there again. Failing this, however, one cannot completely discount the possibility of a move in the Golan, no matter how disastrous this would seem. Admittedly, the Assads will have to be pretty desperate to opt for this option, but, then, people could stumble unto disaster as well, disasters do not always come as a reflection of a conscious decision-making process.

Be that as it may, the main point I would like to stress here is the fact that even a “successful” implementation of 1701 will not spell the endgame for this round of conflict, as the root causes has not been addressed yet. And no, I am not referring here to the Arab-Isrseli conflict. We simply cannot continue to reduce the root causes of our current plight to the sole issue of Israeli-occupied Arab lands. We have been doing this for decades now and, as a result, all our proposed solutions have fallen woefully short of achieving peace.

Indeed, we should always bear in mind the little truths that the Arab Human Development Reports have amply demonstrated, namely that the nature of the ruling regimes involved, especially their corruption and authoritarianism, as well as the lack of serious developmental activities in the region, especially with regard to education, play the more prominent role here. Indeed, we cannot in the name of real politick turn our back on the primary causes of terrorism and instability in the region.

Yes, instability. Many real politick advocates seem to be under the illusion that autocratic regimes are good guarantors against instability because they help control the illiterate and increasingly radical masses, but, as I have argued before, such analysis, in addition to standing the problem on its head, is pretty whimsical and rather selfish, as it is only meant to export the real problems in the region to future generations. For the autocratic regimes can only hold the country together for so long before their corrupt practices end up producing nice little implosions a là Darfur and Somalia.

So, even should 1701 lead to some reprieve in the ongoing conflict, we’d do better to remember that this reprieve will be quite temporary, and that conflict will remain a fact of our lives for a few more generations to come, sorry to say. The promise of peace that flourished in the 90s is now clearly dead and buried.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Sahhaf Mentality!

The former Iraqi Minister of Information, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, who was the last such minister to serve under Saddam Hussein, has long gone down in history as the man who kept on denying the reality of what was actually taking place in the country with regard to the unfolding battle and kept on issuing defiant statements as he had clearly been instructed to do right until the moment US troops stormed into Saddam's palace in Baghdad.

Albeit far less comical, Nasrallah's own televised pronouncements and assurances appear to reflect the same Sahhaf mentality, an inability to accept reality driven in part by ideology, in part by self-interest, and in part by the natural necessities of propaganda.

Indeed, no one can deny the fact that Israel has incurred more losses than it had anticipated due to the resilience and preparedeness of Hezbollah's fighters. These are clearly not some beaten down Iraqi soldiers who had been defeated long before the battle had begun. These are ideologically-motivated fighters who have been engaged in active combat of sorts for many years, and some of them have even conducted a number of operations over the years behind "enemy lines."

Still, resilience is not victory, and the destruction that Lebanon had suffered is not easily reversible, and, for all its losses, Israel seems bent on continuing with its current campaign for at least another month, so where is this redefined victory that Nasrallah is promising? Nasrallah said that the victory that his fighters can deliver will be defined in their continued ability to inflect heavy casualties on the Israelis. Indeed, his fighters and his rockets are doing just that to the surprise and enchantment of many. But, if this is not going to be enough to stop the Israelis from pushing forward with their campaign, what is the point behind such "victory?"

The nationalists have given us the moral victory of '73 and the political victory of '82, and now the Islamists seem on the verge of achieving another moral victory, albeit coupled with a good propaganda coup this time, after all, the world is jeering Israel, so will that suffice?

Well, if the endgame is to preserve the status quo in certain countries and shore up the ruling regimes there, then, indeed such victories could suffice (if they were achieved that is, after all, we are still in mid-combat). But they will come at the expense of our freedom and our living standards. Indeed, we, the people, are the ultimate losers of our imagined victories and all too real defeats. Yet, most of us are cheering this on!? Thank Heaven I am a heretic.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Welcome to Regional War!

The defiant declaration of the Syrian Foreign Minster, Walid al-Moallem, which he made during his brief visit to Beirut, especially the “welcome with regional war” part should begin to raise certain eyebrows in Tel Aviv, in Washington, in Paris, and all across the world. People really need to ask themselves now whether we are not indeed heading towards such a war. For even if Israel and the US are not exactly interested in having things go that far, the possibility remains that the more trouble Israel has in Lebanon and the US in Iraq, and the more beatable the two powers appear, the more tempting the push for war will be by the other side of the equation, namely the alliance that was formed not too long ago, by Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and the radical wing in Hamas, among other Palestinian groups.

Indeed, when one observes the current war preparation in Syria, the calling of the reserves, the spreading of army units across the borders with Lebanon and the digging of trenches around the country, and when one observes how the Syrian public opinion is being prepared for the possibility, nay, the inevitability of war, through constant reminders of the Friday sermons, and the various statements and declarations issued by nationalist and communist groups, one is tempted to think that an actual decision to get involved in war might actually be formulating in the minds of the Assads and the Mullahs, especially if they convinced themselves that this could prove to be a war of attrition and that the more patient side, the side that will not care much for the human and a material costs involved is bound to emerge as the victor.

For in the final analysis, what better way for troubled regimes to consolidate their hold on power than to have the relevant societies destroyed by proxy, but still manage to produce victory at the end of the day – victory in the form of an actual recapture of the occupied land or of reaching an agreement that is signed under fire? And let's not forget here that we are dealing with military regimes. We are dealing with the people whose heads and hearts are still stuck in the eighties. We are dealing with people always susceptible to wishful thinking, always thirsty for glory, always hungry to prove themselves worthy and good, albeit they are not and they will never be.

Psychologically speaking then, we do have all the necessary ingredients for disaster, and slowly but surely we seem to be developing the necessary political ingredients as well.

Are we passed the point of no return?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Reason I Don’t Criticize Israel!

While Israeli actions in Lebanon are outrageous… I think this is pretty much the only condemnation of Israeli actions in Lebanon that I have made ever since the beginning of the current tragedy. I frankly thought that this little adjective, “outrageous,” would prove quite sufficient to convey my feelings about this new round of Israeli aggression and intransigence in our midst. But many seem to have had a different impression. Indeed, quite a few people have so far conveyed their “annoyance” with me for failing to be more critical of Israel, and some have even begun to draw their own conclusions about my motivations in this regard, ones laced with a rather “healthy” doze of the sort of conspiratorial thinking for which we are all too famous.

So, and in order to set certain minds at ease and certain rumors to rest, let me come out and say categorically that I am definitely against the current Israeli aggression in Lebanon. If I choose not to dwell upon it, this is because there are so many people, bloggers, journalists, commentators, experts and officials, who do.
Meanwhile, dissenting and heretical voices like mine, who insist on reminding our people of the other and quite forgotten side of the equation, the one that is equally guilty in the making of this mayhem, if not even more so, are very few. So, it is only natural that I choose to focus my energies on this matter.

The wisdom of this focus may not be visible now, and may never be understood by all, but, then, heresies seldom acquire popularity in the lifetimes of their authors. Moreover, few active “converts” to the “cause” may indeed suffice to make the necessary and required impact at this stage, namely: to preserve a core of independent voices that refuse to be mobilized like chattel for the “national” cause advocated by the regimes and their lackeys, and that would, once the dust of war settles, prove to these types that their internal problems are far from over and that their perceived victory, if victory is to figure anywhere in the equation for any side, is not only pyrrhic but completely illusory. Because we will still here, and the internal accounting which they were trying to elude by instigating all these external crises will be upon us all and will prove much harder and much more urgent.

There is a battle going on for our souls in the region, and I know where I stand.
I shall not compromise my freedom for the sake of national sovereignty nor national sovereignty for the sake of my freedom. In fact, this should not be made into an either or situation. Indeed, it is for this reason that I refuse to join the ongoing mobilization campaign, because the people who are benefiting from this campaign are the very corrupt elite who continue to deny us our freedoms, and yes, Nasrallah is one of them. Whether he was always one of them or has just joined their ranks is academic now. He is clearly in. And while the resilience of his fighters and his on-camera serenity and calm might win him much popular adulation at this stage, especially outside Lebanon, the price for the conflict he helped generate will be born by generations to come.

The establishment of the State of Israel has always been quite problematic for us, but our reaction to its establishment has been far more problematic and costly, and has only helped Israel become more powerful and us more weak. Meanwhile, Israel’s international backers made quite sure that its military adventures did not impinge on its ability to develop itself, its infrastructure and its economy. We, on the other hand, have only our internal resources to rely on, and they will have to suffice. For this reason, the greed and ineptness of our ruling elites need to be combated. Much has been squandered already with little to show for it, in most cases.
It is about time we held our ruling elites accountable for their disastrous performance over the last few decades. It is about time we set our priorities right. Freedom from internal oppression and development should come first. Our campaign to retrieve our occupied land could and should run concurrently with that, but it should not come at the expense of that. For this reason, the strategy and tactics employed and the way policy is conducted in this regard should be subject to a popular review and should take under consideration the material and human costs involved for all sides.

Even the Palestinians, the people who are more concerned with the Arab-Isrseli conflict than any other, seem to have opted for such an alternative in the recent elections. For, and as all polls conducted at the time, especially those conducted by Palestinians, demonstrate
the people voted for Hamas because they were seeking a cleaner more efficient government, one that is more capable of improving their living conditions. They did not elect Hamas to fight Israel, nor they did they do it to create an Islamic state per se. Our people tend to be quite pragmatic when given the chance to express themselves freely. But they also have a very soft spot when it comes to the issue of national identify and sovereignty. This is the main weakness in our psychological constitution at this stage, one that the ruling regimes and their lackeys have learned all too well how to manipulate in order to stay in power and remain unaccountable.

I say, accountability should come first.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Opening of the Golan!

Slowly but surely, the conflict in Lebanon is beginning to spread as all sides fall victims to their rhetoric, their pride, their ambitions and their schemes. The latest chapter in this is not the meaningless operation that took place in the occupied Golan Heights a few days ago itself, but the fact that the party that took credit for it, the previously unknown Free Homeland Party, claims to be an independent Syrian organization acting against the government will.

Regardless of the veracity of this claim, the statement that the group released employs an old-style Baathist lingo, especially in its reference to Blessed Raiders (maghawiruna al-mayameen), the nationalist equivalent to Holy Warriors. As such, the group might be linked, directly or indirectly, to the recently formed Popular Front for the Liberation of the Golan, made up of former MPs and Baath Party members. As such, there is ample reason to believe that the FHP is indeed an Assadist creation, and that is a tool to apply more pressures on Israel and to demonstrate the Assads’ ability to create more problems for the “Zionist Entity.” If this is the case, then the situation is still under control, for the time being.

If this is a truly independent organization, however, then the possibility of escalation and of losing control over the situation is even more eminent and serious. Be that as it may, many Syrians seem on the verge of getting what they have been recently clamoring for – a confrontation with Israel, with all the trimmings.

But please, let’s not forget here, this is all definitely Israel’s and America’s fault. We had nothing to do with it. We are, after all, the perennial victims of a history gone mad.

On a related note, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos spoke on Thursday to Moron and came out with the impression that some kind of an agreement on Hezbollah. He even shared this impression with the rest of the unbelieving world in the press conference following his visit. But, and in a typical Syrian fashion, and mere hours after the FM’s departure, Syrian officials made a statement categorical denying this matter. So, is there anyone else who cares to talk to the Moron?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Personal Side of History!

On Tuesday morning, Future TV did a short interview with my Mom regarding her take on the current developments in Lebanon. In her usual empathetic manner my Mom managed to capture in her comments the essence of how many Arab people around the world feel today. She said that she does not know how future generations will choose to judge our current helplessness and lack of action, and that the best that she can do was to simply apologize for all those children who died because there was nothing that she could do to prevent it. She, then, concluded by saying “Long live the resistance!,” because it is the only sign of dignity that we have left.

Indeed, in times like these, people need to grasp at whatever symbols of steadfastness they are given, no matter how fake and chimerical they know them to be. My Mom is no exception.

Meanwhile, my wife, Khawla, who is half Palestinian, has enough relatives, friends and acquaintances in Lebanon to worry about. Almost everyone she knows there, Sunnis, Shiites and Maronites, had had to leave their homes. Most preferred to relocate internally, but over twenty of her relatives ended up staying in a small house owned by Khawla’s family in the poor Damascene suburb of Dariyyah. One way or another, then, the tragedy is hitting home for her and, of course, for me, as I have come to know and love these people like my own family.

My daughter’s plan to go see her friends in Beirut as soon as our application for political asylum is approved and the necessary travel documents have finally been issued, which is simply dragging on forever, seems to require adjustments now. But going to Amman is simply not the same. Indeed, Beirut is so special to us that, at one point, we were planning to relocate there rather than come to DC. We should probably be happy that we did not make that decision, but happiness, somehow, does not have much of a place in our lives these days, and contentment for being alive and relatively safe will have to suffice for now.

The headquarters of our little NGO, the Tharwa Project, that I have been slaving for the past 5 years to build, and which had only been relocated to Beirut last year following my expulsion from Syria, have had to be shut down again, as our team leader has been forced to leave the country. Thankfully, none of the people affiliated with our activities have been hurt, and, despite all these difficulties, our team leader is planning to resume her activities with us as soon as she settles down in her current refuge elsewhere in the region. Indeed, despite all the difficulties that we have faced over the last years, few have ever left the team.

And here we are working our way through yet another transitional period into the everlasting unknown.

As for me, I am too numb to feel anything really. Sometimes I think that I don’t even have the luxury of feeling, and that my energies are better invested in my work, no matter how pointless it might often seem. After all, planting a tree in the wilderness, if someone can indeed manage to pull it off, might just be more useful than a mere cry.