Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Secularism in Syria - fast evaporating

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst. He has just published an article in Gulf News entitled "Islam and secularism must go hand in hand in Syria". Mr Moubayed is, as ever, well informed and his analysis benefits from a good sense of history.

His article focuses on Islam but overlooks the fact that both Muslims and Christians have been slowly turning to religion in the last fifteen years. More people attend church and go to mosques than ever before and they compete by turning the volume up in their calls to prayer, religious chanting and street fanfare.

Moubayed attributes this to political helplessness and despair. He is right. Secularism has not provided any answers to social problems. However, the type of secularism that the Syrian regime has practised for 30 years is rather unique. It is both elastic and devoid of any real principles. It is used as a cover to legitimise the regime's absolute hold on power. No real attempt is made by the regime to build secular institutions or instil secular values in schools and the adult population. Quite the opposite; it is now cynically fanning the fires of religious extremism in order to defeat the secular Syrian opposition and buy protection from Iran against the West. It will crack down on religious extremists when it feels less threatened by the West and the secular Syrian opposition has been weakened.

The regime is clearly playing a very dangerous game, which is a sure sign of desperation and moral and political bankruptcy. Islamic fundamentalists have become cleverer and more adept at gaining grass root support and loyalty. Just look at Hizbullah and Hamas. Once they scent power, they will not be easily shaken off and will resort to jihadist tactics to get their own way.

Syrians are naturally averse to extremism but even they can develop a taste for it. If a significant number of Syrians become religiously indoctrinated and the regime collapses, civil war cannot not be ruled out. That is precisely the message that the Assad clan are now sending out to the West. They may be looking east towards Tehran, but their hearts (and hidden fortunes) are in the West. Whatever the eventual outcome, the Syrian people will pay in blood for the greed and political adventurism of their rulers.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Syrian Nationalist Party frothing at the mouth

The SNP has posted a comment today on "The CIA's View of Syria" post by Joshua Landis.

I found it rather sad that these well-intentioned people are still living an impossible dream. So I just had to respond:

Syrian Nationalist Party, whoever you are, just calm down! Life to you seems to be a great big, satanic conspiracy. SOUMMOOD AND TAHADDI are empty words used too often by demagogues. Strength and steadfastness are silent and come from within. Corrupt and despotic rulers, having weakened their nations, sell them down the river to the highest bidder. So, one day we are raped by the Israelis and greedy superpowers and the next day we are soddomised by the Iranians after being offered friendship and pocket money.

Wake up! No nation can survive by stupidly clinging to past glories, religion or questionable alliances. In order to build inner strength, people must be free and governments honest, representative and fair. Stop burying your head in the sand and put your own house in order first.

The CIA's View of Syria

The following is my comment on a post that has appeared on www.syriacomment.com today:

Michael Scheuer is 100% correct. The Syrian regime has never posed a real threat to the US. That is one reason why the Israeli lobby has not been able to persuade the Bush Administration to commit to a policy of regime change. The Administration simply wants the regime to have no claws.

Interestingly, soon after Boy Assad was comically installed, the Israeli lobby stopped pushing for a regime change. Present-day Syria could not be more wonderful. Utterly incompetent, corrupt, rudderless, toothless and, above all, useful in keeping the Islamists at bay.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

IMF Report on Syria

A good post today by Ehsani2 on www.syriacomment.com provides a more balanced view of the Syrian economy than the authorities in Damascus would have you believe.

I would add the following comments:

It is good to see some growth in the economy. It would have been a better story if this increase in income was accruing to productive and hard working men and women instead of rent seekers and the corrupt elite.

Look a little closer at the key sources of growth: Oil exports + Iraq + Lebanon. Since Iraqis have been permitted to own property in Syria, they have been busy investing in land and real estate. Liquidity, which used to flow out of the country through Lebanese-based banks and out into the wider world, has been trapped in Syria. Interest rates have come down both in nominal and real terms. So Syrians have also been buying land and real estate. Gulf investment in hotels and some processing industries is significant but neither a key growth factor nor sustainable.

There is no need to go over the arguments for real reforms and the routing out of institutionalised corruption. There are undoubtedly some good, honest and knowledgeable people working within the obsolete machinery of government. Sadly, they are whistling in the wind.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Golan Heights 2

I still haven't written anything original, but unashamedly I offer this comment on an article by Dr Murhaf Jouejati of George Washington University:

From Philip I

Good article. I would add the following point. A nation's strength (for strength read negotiating power) stems mainly from the effectiveness of its institutions and intellectual capacity and discipline of individuals within them. Obsolete military hardware can still be lethal in the right hands.

The Assad regime (father and son), rather than building national strength from within, has systematically driven out the middle class. It has used common thuggery and blackmail in conducting foreign policy through the manipulation of militia groups.

It will take at least two decades to repair the fabric of society let alone build a stronger nation capable of liberating the Golan. As Einstein said: "The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them."

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Golan Heights

My comment on a post by Rime Allaf (So what about the Golan? June 15, 2006):

Friday, June 16, 2006

It was digusting to see how Israel was able to bomb the alleged training camp near Damascus in 2003, without a shot being fired by our air or ground forces. They didn't even see them coming. Where have all the billions of dollars extracted for the military gone over the years? What's the point of military service?

It was equally digusting to watch the regime plead for restarting the negotiations to save its skin at the expense of the nation's honour and dignity.

Rime, you have directed your fire equally at the US/Israel and the Syriam regime. I say save all your fire and ire for the regime and the regime alone. You know very well that weakness and disunity could be exploited even by friends, let alone enemies. The US and Israel are only protecting their interests. Negotiating from a position of self-induced weakness has the moral equivalence of soddomy.

A nation does not need a vast mountain of military hardware to protect itself. Good effective institutions and clever and honest people are the best defence. In the last 30 years, the regime has not only destroyed the nation's institutions but the whole fabric of society. Millions have immigrated while those who have remained are being tortured mentally and physically. The Golan Heights? The regime doesn't even realise that it can't give them away. They've already been taken.

The only card left in its hands is what I call religious thuggery. Scare the West by giving Iran more strategic depth in Syria and Lebanon. The clever Americans have already succeeded in giving Iran strategic depth in Iraq! work it out! It is in our interest to see Iran and the US reach some kind of accommodation over nuclear weapons. The regime will have absolutely nothing left to scare the West with. Bremmertz will then drive the last nail in its coffin.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

"Religion is the opium of the people" Karl Marx / Chairman Mao


This is my first blog and I am not happy.

See the post by Ehsani2 on www.syriacomment.com of 14 June 2006 on the Christians of Syria and Lebanon.

The post offers an insight into the political fears of a dwindling minority in Syria. That minority is labelled as Orthodox Christian and the fears are about an Islamist takeover of Syria.

I offer this comment:

Ehsani2's analysis is perceptive but, I am afraid the post is fundamentally unacceptable to me. All this talk about Christians and Muslims is divisive and pointless. Surely it is better to campaign for a secular and democratic future, with one man one vote, regardless of creed or ethnicity than to serve the regime with this kind of scare mongering.

We all know and understand the realities of our nation and the role of religion in accentuating cultural differences and tribal allegiances (Marx and Mao were right; "religion is the opium of the people"!).

Sure, Syria could end up being ruled by Islamists when the Assad clan are ousted. So what? If the political system is truly democratic and fair, people will eventually reject extremism through the ballot box. Our energies should be focused on uniting Syrians at home and abroad around the simple objectives of democracy and justice. How do we do that? We translate these abstract notions into meaningful and specific reform programmes. If we cannot at least agree the broad principles then we have no hope of ever changing the status quo.