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.


Nobody said...

Philip ...

i found this on of your old posts:

UN statistics combined with unofficial estimates suggest that 40% of the Syrian labour force is unemployed. Syrian official figures show only a 13% unemployment rate.

Syria's population growth is one of the highest in the world. Many families live below the poverty line and the use of child labour is widespread. Following the Hariri assasination, more than 800,000 Syrians lost their jobs. The government pays lip service to economic and social reforms and argues that political reform is not necessary to ensure economic success (look at China, they say). The Chinese must be wondering if the Syrians will reach the moon before they do next year!


and i posted a question but i dont know if you got it ... here it is

why is the syrian population growth the highest in the world ?? i know that the regime is secular and however poor syria is it's not africa .. what is the reason of this demographic explosion ?

Philip I said...


Population growth in Syria has moderated in the last decade but it is still one of the highest in the World along with that of Saudi Arabia.

There are several reasons for this. Syria's socialist policies from the 1960s to the early 1990s produced dramatic improvements in life expectancy and infant mortality. The state also provided subsidies to large families and support for working mothers and has not encouraged family planning until very recently.

You would expect migration from rural to urban areas to reduce family size but not so in Syria. Poverty (which encourages fathers to produce many children as a form of insurance) combined with state subsidies, Sunni population's traditional love of large families (including having more than one wife) have meant that the typical urban family size has remained similar to that of rural areas (6 members+).

Also in Syria, population growth has not generated the same social and economic pressures as those in Egypt, but they are beginning to.

You might find it interesting to flick through this publication which contains some useful charts, even though the data is a little out of date:


Philip I said...

Sorry, the correct link is here

Anonymous said...

I like this description of dictator which might apply to our case, by Winston Churchill,

“Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry.”

However, considering all other experiences of other countries got rid of their dictators as one man rule, one family or sect rule, I think unless Syrian come up with a new way to get rid of their dictator, there is an indication that the only way for this dictator to go is the Romanian way.
The reason for this is as follows:
If President Assad started what he had promised when he grabbed the post it will go like Gorbatchove in the Soviet Union.
If the level of oppression not that high and similar to Philippine it would have gone like Corazon Aquino.
If Americans have stomach for another venture from Bush, it could have gone like Saddam.
If the current regime has a real connection with the Baathis and his base; and could get rid himself from dictatorship with open market and economy rout it could have went as China.
If current president is a real leader, intelligent, innovative and loves his country more than his money in the bank outside the country, he could have gone like Dubai leader and made something out of his country.

I can’t say more, it is open to discussion and your comment Philip.

Nobody said...

thanks for the link, your majesty

Philip I said...


Thank you very much for your thoughts on all the potential routes to a better Syria!

Our regime is truly unique. You have the state, the Baath party and the Assad dynasty. The Baath party hijacked the state and the Assad regime hijacked the Baath party. Neither the state nor the party has a distiguishable identity or real transparent structure any longer. This is because the Assad regime is a cancerous, parasitic entity that draws blood (i.e. financial resources, manpower and military power)from both the state and the party.

I like Churchil's description of a dictator too. It is apt but does not quite fit our situation because the tiger has always been well fed.

Assad has significant dictatorial powers but the regime is an extremely well-organised and protected state within a state which is ruled by several members of his clan, each controlling a militia or intelligence apparatus and an economic fiefdom (mobile phones, banking, hotels..etc)just like a medieval feudal system.

If Assad is shot like in Romania it means that the people have somehow managed to dismantle his invisible state. This can only happen if the regular army (which has been deliberately divided and weakened by the regime over 35 years) acts on behalf of the people, i.e. rebels against the regime and captures and destroys all its power structures. In this case we would end up with a military dictator who would have to rebuild the traditional institutions of the state over a 10 to 15 year period. A military dictatorship is not ideal but if it is clean and secular Syria would at least regain its identity and spirit as a nation.

The Baath party may reinvent itself as a social democratic political party like in many Eastern European countries but real multi-party democracy would have to wait until the new military dictator is ready to step down. Has any Arab dictator ever stepped down voluntarily?

Perhaps Turkey can teach us a few lessons about modern state and nation building in a largely Islamic and authoritarian culture.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Phillips,
I completely agree with, however, the way I interpreted the tiger metaphor is slightly different. I imagined the tiger is the pulpous and he is not going to be able to feed it for a long time. My vision for the future, the near future even without the effect of the opposition may go like that.
I think the time is not on the regime side, they have been stifling change for the last 18 years, since the fall of the Soviet Union. When they showed some sign and some guts for change, they started on the wrong foot and for the wrong purpose. They could not look behind their own greed and they proved that they are not made for that. Neither they could share or could allow the needed change. Corruption is rampant and they are breaking records in poor planning.
Open market economy is not a choice its all what’s left for them to do and champion which they are currently have no success with. The next two years is the climax of turning curve of the collapse of the economy when their full dependent on imported oil starts.
The Assad impulsion for 7 more years is a disastrous plan for him and for the Syrian. His combat of dissents will turn terrible on him. When subsidies will be lifted, a new age will start, and his base of support will disappear. If he try to lengthen the current status quo, at that time particular time, the Romanian solution would be the only one available to rectify stifled change. If that happened it wont matter what is going to happen after that it is seeds which planted along all those years will move history. The new condition will take the people to the next stage, civil ware or chaos or real open economy, no one knows.

Nobody said...

The next two years is the climax of turning curve of the collapse of the economy when their full dependent on imported oil starts.

can you elaborate on this point?

Anonymous said...

Dear nobody, I’m not an economist, but I have an interest in the subject. I have the ability to plan for projects and to understand the worth of dollars on the City level here in the State of NC. Most my reading regarding this subject from specialists and from judging against other countries made me to come to that conclusion. I hope this humble review might explain why I have said that the next two years will be an ultimate years for current situation.

Current income to spending for ordinary Syrian is way out of balance. Example, my brother working for government 6000 sp, lives in Damascus, his salary is not enough to pay electricity. The future in not promising to going to be worse by the day.
The oil sector in Syria recorded 8.7 billions dollars deficit for the last years according to the finance minister recent address. The government studies and recent official’s statements stated that full scale dependant on imported oil is expected by 2008-9. Syrian’s official varying disclosures of vanishing oil range from 5 years to 15 yeas. The world monetary fund maintained that oil reserve will vanish by 2008, the country will move from surplus of 3.5% to a 10% deficiency of Syrian export in the coming years. In a previous address to ex-oil minister, he said that by 2012 Syria will be short of $2 b, to satisfy its need to oil. That was in January 2007.
Actually it did not take long by May this year the finance minister is saying that the shortage is $8.7 b. The open economy will increase the demand to a new level the planners are not able to make prediction on, as their history of planning was always a poor one.
Syrian oil sector previously contributed about 45% of Syrian export earning according to study by C.A. I . MED. Reported statistics indicate that 2/3 of total labor force is working in the public sector. Inefficiency of the labor force in public sector is the hallmark of the system.
The political future of the country was highlighted in accordance to the regime inability to make changes was outlined in Carnage Paper mentioned previously on this blog.
The three future Scenarios goes as follows:
-Regime dig inn: regime might survive but have to be anti western and pro Iran and anti democratic which will lead to circling the wagon with economic disasters.
- Alawite Regime remade: this scenario if the regime got weak due to international pressure the regime become vulnerable to a coup to be carried out by Alawite in the military. It is hard to predict the consequences from such an act but it will bring instability and turmoil.
- Third scenario is regime collapse: by popular uprising.
I think all those scenarios are stimulated by the economic conditions. The stagnation of the economy and the increase of labor force and the absence of fundamentals for real open economy will make the regime effort useless. The current mismanagement in addition to the shadowy officials stamping all presidential decrees will not produce the necessary conditions for transparent economy to function.
On the other hand, Syria is suffering from dwindling resources regarding water and cultivated land. The central government spends most of its revenues in couple of main cities and on outdated public sector.

Fares said...

Philip, I love your comment on the update! cheers

Nobody said...

On the other hand, Syria is suffering from dwindling resources regarding water and cultivated land.

syria has a problem with water resources ??

and what you say about cultivated land is a result of water shortage or there is more to this ? i thought syria is quite a country in terms of territory

Nobody said...

i also missed the part about a possible alawi internal coup ... who and why may carry it out?

Anonymous said...

The water resource and cultivated land is abundant in north and north east of the country. However, the poverty in that region is overwhelming because of neglect. Also, the coast area could generate a lot of resources which started showing in small and mid size project, I have heard about from locals.
The shortage of water resources and the retreat of cultivated land I alluded to are in Damascus city and Damascus suburb. This area inhibited with the ¼ of the population in addition to being the place for central government.
Syria in general is suffering today from deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, desertification, water pollution from raw sewage and petroleum refining wastes and the inadequate potable water supply. Especially in Damascus and the surrounding, which is over populated, the inadequate use resources made it reach the breaking point. Visiting observer can see how the whole area which makes the portable water basin in Blodan, Zabadani and Barada stretch are polluted by sewer lines, over population and un controlled wells pumping. The centric governing in Syria still concentrate on Damascus region where most of its housing projects planned without any indication of easing the grip for some self governing for other areas to ease the pressure on this region. Currently the municipality in this region can not provide adequate portable water for its current populace. The rapidly growing population estimated at 2.5% and the arrival of Iraqi refugees, and the accelerated migration of poor from rural area to large urban centers have created a serious problem of slums. The fragmented authoritarian regime expedites slums formation. These slums are similar to caves and worse where even water is not provided. The statistic shows a 36% violation in Damascus for building code. An estimated 1.2 million units of substandard houses is constructed in Damascus. Not to mention the air pollution, which is obvious if you visited the city, the water shortage, and water pollution from sewer all created environmental problems which has exacerbated by a serious nepotism and mismanagement.

Philip I said...


I know your comments are meant as a response to "nobody", but may I say how delighted I am to learn these extremely interesting facts from you. I have always wondered, in the absence of such information, about the extent of the environmental degredation in the Damascus governorate. Thank you very much for sharing this information and the explanations that you have provided.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Via Recta,
In my 21 years in the USA I visited Damascus twice in 2000 and in 2006. In the 2000 visit, when I came back to the States, I become sick for quite a time. I went to my friend Syrian doctor. After testing he said that it is the water of Damascus. He described the water their as a used bath top water. He frequently goes there and knows what he is talking about. In the last year visit, I experienced something was horrific to me. I drove through the gorge or famous “Robwa” I could not breathe from the co2 of cars emission. It used to be that all Damascus polluted except this gorge which brings fresh cool air breathe to the city. The new high rise buildings on the two sides of the mountain, especially governmental buildings, the president palaces and the slums for the forces protecting the president on the two sides of the valley, See google earth, has cut the respiratory of the city. Then I knew it is dead now.

Anonymous said...

Dear Philop,
Will you please put your conversation with anonymous as main post, it is wonderful and full of good ideas and intelligent responses.
Thank you
Anonymous 2

Philip I said...

Thank you very much anonymous 2.

I am thinking of highlighting the environmental problems in Syria by turning anonymous's comment into a main post. His views and information are just great.

Lirun said...

i am saddened by the state of syria.. i met some people two weeks ago who travelled through and confirmed by impression of the syrians as hospitable people with a marvellous land..

wish things were different.. hope they change for the good and betterment of all..

Nobody said...

Not to mention the air pollution, which is obvious if you visited the city, ...

as an israeli i cannot do it and the way you describe the situation does not give me much taste for doing this ...

the thing is that there are reports here and there about economic reforms in Syria .. as it appears from these reports the regime does try to implement free market reforms ... some revival of small businesses like cafes and restaurants seems to be under way ... what is the scope of these reforms and how they fit into the big picture ?


i agree with other commenters - you seem to be very knowledgeable ... your comments are excellent both in terms of information and analytical quality

Nobody said...

in terms of state ownership and privitization where does syria stand ?? is it a socialist or semi socialist country with all major companies controlled by the state?

Caesar :P said...

To answer your question nobody (If I'm not already to late) Syria used to have a state controlled economy but since 2005 is trying to make it social. We now have private banks, insurance firms, airlines and more is to come.

In fact I consider myself one of the naive syrian majority who believes that we can make progress without changing the regime (the "islah" way)

But should it be removed, does it have to be the Romanian or Iraqi way? Can't we try the Ukranian "Orange Revolution"?? Or is that wishful thinking?

Caesar :P said...

Yeah I forgot, we're gonna have a stock market by the end of 2008, the DSE. We would have one a long time ago if the US won't sanction any firm that tries to sell us software.

Bush...quit bugging us.