Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Oh Lion of the Golan!

According to fellow blogger "Nine Months in Syria":

"The billboards changed overnight from campaign to congratulations. This one reads: "Congratulations; Congratulations; Oh, our country; To you, our Asad." Or, "To you, our lion." In Arabic, asad means lion."

What I care about is what our lion has done, is doing, will do, to liberate the Golan from 40 years Israeli occupation.

His father, as defence minister, lost the Golan in the 1967 war through his stupidity and arrogance. He then spent 33 years talking about liberating it to justify his dictatorship and military spending. Where has all the money gone?

Now the lion cub has spent seven years playing with fire everywhere except in the Golan. What is he going to do in the next seven years to liberate the Golan and free our prisoners of war. How will he justify his dictatorship in the next 7 years? What does he and his gang have to offer the country? It is truly amazing how a country can "re-elect" a president who has made no public commitments to doing anything!

The neglect of the Golan issue exposes the hypocracy of the Syrian regime to the core. Not only is it incapable of defending the honour of our country, it has actively weakened the state and regular army through its corruption, incompetence and divisiveness. No wonder that Israeli strategists prefer this regime as a "reliable-do-nothing" to any other "unpredictable" nationalist and democratic alternatives.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Tossing a coin on Sunday's referendum

Heads, I win ... Tails, you lose

Syrian Presidential Referendum, Sunday 27 May 2007
The farce continues for 7 more years

“I don't have any formula for ousting a dictator or building democracy. All I can suggest is to forget about yourself and just think of your people. It's always the people who make things happen.”

Corazon Aquino (Political leader and president (1986-92) of the Philippines, b.1933)


Interior Minister, Gen. Bassam Abdul-Majeed on Tuesday announced the results of the referendum on a new constitutional term for President Bashar al-Assad, which was conducted on May 27th,2007.

He indicated that the percentage of citizens who said Yes reached 97.62 percent while the percentage of participating citizens in the referendum reached 95.86 percent. The minister said in a press conference he held this morning that the number of citizens who voted Yes on the nomination of President Bashar al-Assad reached 11,199,445 citizens , while the number of citizens who voted Nay reached 19,653 i.e. a percentage of 1.71 per thousand.

He added that the number of invalid papers reached 253,059 papers i.e. 2.21 percent.
He indicated that the percentage of the participating eligible voters reached 95.86 percent i.e. 11,472,157 citizens out of the overall number of citizens eligible for voting which is 11,967,611 citizens whose names were announced in the referendum records."

The Arabic version goes on to say that the minister made the absurd claim that the referendum "was a popular expression of democratic principles and political pluralism"...?!


History is littered with examples of dictators "gaining" more than 95% of the votes in a plebiscite. Hitler and Mussolini used the plebiscite to disguise oppressive policies in a veneer of populism. This populism is then used to undermine parliament, which in Syria's case is already a rubber-stamping body, totally unrepresentative of the nation.

Did more than 11 million Syrians (95% of eligible voters) leave their homes to vote yes through their own free will? Did they have the option of not voting at all or a choice of presidential candidates? All students and civil servants, and most villagers, were forced to vote and everyone's identity card and ballot paper could be seen by an intelligence officer as no curtains were available in voting booths. Many voted, and voted yes, through coersion and fear of reprisals.

The numbers are clearly too fantastic to believe, especially when the turnout for the parliamentary elections in April was under 10%. But even if the true percentage of the yes votes is only 30% or 40% it clearly demonstrates the regime's stranglehold on the population. No doubt there are many Syrians who genuinely believe that dictatorship is the lesser of all political evils and there are some who simply like the young Assad and trust his reforming instincts. But the sad truth is that this dictatorship has, for 36 years, savagely wiped out any attempts by honest citizens to form groups, parties or movements and publicise their opinions in order to provide real political alternatives.

The fight for political choice, democracy and social justice goes on regardless.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Students’ exams postponed to encourage Assad worship

The Ministry of Education in Syria has decided to postpone student exams which would have coincided with the presidential referendum on 27 May.

The Ministry, guided by the Baath Party, has declared that students, teachers and school administrators “will wish” to take part in the nationwide rallies planned in support of the president on that day. Assad, the sole candidate, is seeking a second 7 year-term in office in a yes or no vote.

Thanks to fellow Syrian blogger Yazan for highlighting this highly-educated and intelligent decision (Arabic text).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Peaceful activist gets 12 years with hard labour

Syrian human rights activist, Dr. Kamal al-Labwani, was sentenced on 10 May to life imprisonment. Regime president, Bashar Al Assad, immediately and "graciously" commuted it to 12 years.

Some analysts view this extraordinarly long sentence as an attempt to frustrate and silence peaceful opposition and a statement of defiance against the soon-to-be-convened international tribunal on the assasination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Assad and his close associates have been implicated by UN investigators in this and other murders of prominent Lebanese politicians in recent years.

The full press release of Human Rights Watch is here

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

More sour grapes over the Golan

Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel 40 years ago, in the six-day war of 1967.

Four decades is not a particularly long time in the life of a nation, but in human terms, the war has impacted the lives of three generations already. Its disturbing images still linger in the memories of those who lived through it and witnessed its breathtakingly quick conclusion as either a “humiliating defeat” or a “stunning victory”.

Losing so many people and so much land and military hardware in just six days meant that those who led us into that disastrous war, including one Hafez Al Assad, either made fatal errors of judgement or were utterly incompetent. Either way, they were never held accountable for their mistakes and the nation never, therefore, learned any lessons from them. They went on to rule the country by stealth, under emergency powers, while demanding blind faith and loyalty from the defenceless population.

Worse still, they never taught us to understand, fight or engage intelligently with the enemy. We were allowed only to fear and despise it. Until two decades ago, no distinction had been made between Jews and political Zionists or among Israelis with different shades of political opinion, ethnic and cultural backgrounds and religious convictions. They were all enemies who should be obliterated from the face of the earth. The Israelis contributed to this by their abuse of the Palestinians and Golan residents while extreme elements within the Israeli political and religious establishment fed their land-grabbing agenda on our blind hatred and the insecurity of ordinary Israelis.

Then came the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979, which resulted in the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. This opened up the possibility of a similar deal on the Golan and slowly changed perceptions about the nature and long-term intentions of the “evil Zionist enemy”. Secret dialogue through third parties and direct negotiations between Syria and Israel soon followed but yielded nothing. Why?

The reasons are water, mistrust and the weakness of the Syrian military machine.

Click on image to enlarge

The Golan probably supplies some 30% of Israel’s water requirements. The Israelis do not trust the Syrians to honour a long-term water supply agreement and not try (again) to divert tributaries flowing into northern Israel back into Syrian territory, or not to attack Israel from the Golan ridge. More importantly, they have no real incentive to return the Golan as long as they believe they can win a conventional war against Syria.

Their nuclear and biological weapons would certainly protect them against deep invasion or total annihilation. That much is clear, but only a serious and growing risk of losing a conventional war against Syria would bring them back to the negotiating table. Previous negotiations failed because they thought they could wring out big territorial and water concessions from the Syrians, from a position of strength, and at the same time isolate the Palestinians. Syrians would never allow their leaders to compromise on the sovereignty of the Golan or strike a peace deal at the expense of the Palestinians.

To be blunt, if Syrians want all of the Golan back tomorrow, they should stop whining about the illegal occupation and annexation of the Golan and all the useless UN resolutions, fight another war and win. Else they should build mutual trust and conventional military parity with Israel.

Building military parity (in the air, sea and on land) could have the opposite effect of fuelling fear and suspicion among Israeli hawks and provoke a pre-emptive strike. This is a risk worth taking, as a pre-emptive strike would have a limited impact on a nation of 20m with massive land depth. Every nation has the right to build military power to defend its borders and fight occupation. Inaction, stockpiling long-range missiles or driving thorns into Israel’s side from time to time using external militia groups build neither trust nor real military power. Mutual trust can be built alongside military capacity but only through deeds rather than words.

Israel has been exploiting her war victory and occupation of the Golan for 40 years. Economically, the Golan has yielded enormous benefits in agricultural produce, tourist receipts and clean water. A peace deal based on a gradual but complete return of the Golan to Syria over 20 years, without destruction of existing infrastructure or compensation on either side, is both possible and feasible. Both sides must see opportunity in promoting peaceful coexistence and regional economic cooperation, but also a serious and constant danger of armed conflict and possible defeat if they fail to make progress.

Personal contact and open dialogue between enemies over a 20-year time horizon can only yield positive results. Several generations of politicians, community leaders, businessmen and ordinary people on both sides need to interact without fear in order to alter perceptions and attitudes and allow mutual trust to take root over time.

Recent attempts by the Syrian regime to resume peace negotiations have been seen as empty gestures by astute Israeli politicians. They have been actively discouraged by blind Zionists, who took them more seriously, for fear of eventual land surrender. They have been welcomed by Israeli moderates who are hoping for, or expecting big concessions.

Syria, devoid of its middle class and rife with corruption, is currently too poor and underdeveloped economically to provide a lucrative market for Israeli business. The regime is too fragile politically to pose a serious military threat to Israel. The plain fact is we have a strong dictatorship that protects itself extremely well against the population, but a nation that has been severely weakened strategically and institutionally by decades of graft, under investment and injustice.

Sadly for us, the sons and daughters of the 1967 war generation, we are never likely to spend our summers at the slopes of Mount Hermon or on the shores of Lake Tiberius. Israeli settlers in the Golan will continue to drink our wine, our rulers who sent our fathers to their death in 1967 will continue to swim in our Champagne but for us and our children, it looks like sour grapes for many more years to come.