Saturday, March 26, 2011

Syria needs a military coup and Turkish-style democracy

The popular uprising in Syria will spiral out of control and rivers of blood will flow unless Assad's brothers and cousins are stripped of their powers immediately and put under house arrest and the army is deployed in force in all the main population centres.

That of course is pure fantasy. Assad is too weak among his clan; the higher echelons of the armed forces have been corrupted or rendered powerless under the watchful eyes of military intelligence. Some have been compromised through Iranian indoctrination and infiltration. The arrival of two Iranian warships at the port of Latakia on 25 February, in the wake of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprising, was probably no coincidence.

The current war of attrition between the regime's special units and the demonstrators can only escalate. Empty promises of reform, official media lies and the shooting of unarmed civilians will simply inflame public anger and lead to the destruction of property and violent acts of revenge.

There is no credible force in Syria except the army. Patriotic officers cannot however mobilise their units until the regime begins to implode and its intelligence networks start to break down through widespread public revolt.

Deploying the army in population centres now can give Assad breathing space to lift the state of emergency and proceed quickly with implementing real democratic multi-party reforms, leading to a new constitution. Unfortunately, this looks highly unlikely as the regime has always been fearful of a military coup and Assad does not seem able to prevail over his uncompromising and greedy clan (most of whom have already secured their families' future for decades ahead by amassing vast international fortunes and obtaining foreign passports).

The road to a truly representative, civilian and non-sectarian government in Syria will be traumatic and tortuous. Such a government will not see the light of day or survive for long without the protection of an uncompromised and patriotic army. Turkey provides a good government model for Syria but sadly much blood will be spilled before the country emerges from the dark age of dictatorship and endemic corruption.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Assad - the beginning of the end

Look at me, says sweet Assad, do I look like a tyrant and a killer? My witnesses were God and Buthaina when I ordered the special units not to fire a single bullet at the demonstrators in Dara'a. Yes, 37 dead but it was all a terrible mistake, the dumb policemen just went too far.

I have been crying out for reforms ever since I returned from London but my stubborn and ignorant clan would not let me go down that path. Today though, I have triumphed over them. I can now press on with implementing all the radical reform plans that I have kept in my top drawer for many years: no emergency laws, no censorship, no one-party system, no kangaroo courts, no unemployment and what's more I am increasing your salaries by 30% straight away. Isn't this good news? There really is no reason for you to demonstrate and cause more trouble. Keep me in power for ever and I will look after you for ever. You will bask in freedom and wealth and life will be just wonderful from now on.

After the long stick, quickly came the carrot. The declaration of good intentions is a super-sized carrot dangled in front of an angry crowd. Far too quick and too good to believe. The purpose is crystal clear: to pacify and divide the Syrian people and pre-empt a major nation-wide uprising.

Will he deliver, can he deliver? The regime recognizes danger when it sees it and just has to do something. Assad will move quickly to present a reformist facade at home and abroad but proceed at a snail's pace in delivering anything real that can make a material difference to people's lives. Too much damage has been done to the country's social and moral fabric, institutions and infrastructure to be able deliver enough real jobs for the unemployed and under-employed millions to lift them out of poverty.

Syria needs US$80 billion of investment per year but is now getting just US$2.0 billion! Even if the world was persuaded to invest such a colossal amount in the country, not much of it would trickle down to the young man and woman in the street. Much of the investment over the last decade has been "taxed" away by the regime and its cronies. Is this likely to change? Perhaps but chances are any genuine change will be too little and too late.

Still, I am hopeful. Assad himself has good survival instincts but acts as a somewhat comic benevelont dictator with not enough money or real power among his clan or the mad dogs whom he depends on to protect the regime. The Syrian people are not stupid. They have learned all the tricks the regime has employed in the last 40 years to deceive them and deprive them of their liberty, deny them a dignified existence and rob them of their creative potential. The people do not want bloodshed and sectarian conflicts but have now broken down the wall of fear and the wall of silence. They will be no less vigilant and determined to see real reforms through than the good people of Egypt and Tunisia.

Let us never forget the 37 innocent citizens of Dara'a who have been murdered. All they were trying to do is make Syria a better country for their children and all of us.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Syrian regime bushy tailed but claws not yet out

The recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen and several street protests in Syria have put the regime on high alert.

Assad and his inner circle are confident they can keep the protests small and manageable and prevent a widespead revolution. They are probably right. The tools at their disposal are many and formidable: the extensive intelligence networks that permeate every neighbourhood and organisation in the land, threats, arrests, brute force, media manipulation, mobilisation of mouthpieces and loyal community leaders at home and abroad, bribery, insincere dialogue with protesters and calculated sabotage of peaceful demonstrations, as happened in Dara'a, to provide a pretext for intervention and to scare the silent majority into submission. In desparation they can even let off bombs in city centres or provoke a clash with Israel in Lebanon or the Golan with backing from Iran if necessary.

The regime is smart enough to make this a painful and long game whose ultimate goal is to throw a large enough piece of meat to the hungry protesters while digging its claws deeper into our flesh. The Syrian people are however smart enough to wear the regime down through patience, calmness and determination.

A dictatorship will always make mistakes because it pays people who are not so smart to keep it safe and because its control networks usually break down as chaos ensues in more than one location simultaneously. When serious mistakes are made the situation can spiral out of control with unpredictable and violent consequences.

The best outcome is not a revolution, a massacre or a bleeding to death of the regime or the protesters through chaos and violent clashes. The best outcome is for the regime to reform before it destroys the country or gets annihilated.

It is true that there is no organised opposition of any significance at home or abroad. The regime has made sure of that. However, ordinary Syrians have the power to persuade the regime to opt for peaceful change by continuing to protest peacefully, by making simple, realistic and clear demands (such as more jobs, better housing, freedom of expression, sacking of corrupt officials..etc) and by showing restraint and determination to be heard and not be intimated by threats or brute force.

Assad is at once a culprit and a victim of dictatorship. This explains why he has not delivered on his promises of reform since the Damascus Spring and why he has yielded to pressure from the hard-headed and power-crazed idiots that surround him. He and his wife have predictably yielded to the allure of the cult of personality which leads to delusions of invincibility; they have truly come to believe that the adulation of the masses is genuine and that together they personify resistance against the enemies of Arab nationalism, modernity and technological progress. How could the Syrian people not trust or love them?

Most likely the regime is entrapped in its own delusions and fears and simply incapable of reform but it would be a great mistake to seek to wound it fatally through a widespread and violent uprising. The consequences of violence on all sides are too ugly to contemplate. The regime must be given yet another chance to change from within. Frequent, coordinated, low-level and non-violent protests in as many population centres in the country as possible stand a better chance of succeeding than any other means.

No sane Syrian wants a Libyan-style solution to dictatorship but equally no Syrian dictator has lost his sanity so completely as to ignore the writing on the wall.

Why is out of action at this time?

It is rather curious that has been down since the troubles/demonstrations in Syria began about a week ago. The site provides links to many Syrian blogs which disseminate news and general commentary from within and outside Syria. The blogs reflect a wide spread of opinions on events in the country and are therefore a good barometer of political and non-political sentiment.

A "cached" link to the site is still operational and visitors can therefore access the long list of Syrian blogs via this link: (cached link)

Is it the sheer weight of traffic or something more sinister that has put it out of action at this time?

Friday, March 04, 2011

We saw the Arab revolutions coming

By Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera's Director General

(extract & comment):

"On February 11, the day Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president of Egypt, Al Jazeera faced a welcome dilemma: Scenes of elation were playing out not just in Cairo but throughout the region, and even with our vast network of journalists, we found it difficult to be everywhere at once. From North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, Arabs were celebrating the reclamation of their self-confidence, dignity and hope.

The popular revolutions now sweeping the region are long overdue. Yet in some ways, they could not have come before now. These are uprisings whose sons and daughters are well educated and idealistic enough to envision a better future, yet realistic enough to work for it without falling into despair. These revolutions are led by the Internet generation, for whom equality of voice and influence is the norm. Their leaders' influence is the product of their own effort, determination and skill, unconstrained by rigid ideologies and extremism.

It is now clear to all that the modern, post-colonial Arab state has failed miserably, even in what it believed it was best at: Maintaining security and stability. Over the decades, Arab interior ministers and police chiefs devoted enormous resources and expertise to monitoring and spying on their own people. Yet now, the security machineries in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have disintegrated in short order, while the rest of the authoritarian and repressive regimes in the region can see the writing on the wall.

These revolutions have exposed not just the failure of traditional politicians but also the moral, political and economic bankruptcy of the old Arab elites. Those elites not only attempted to control their own people, but also sought to shape and taint the views of news media in the region and across the world."

This article first appeared in The Washington Post then Al Jazeera's website.


"...while the rest of the authoritarian and repressive regimes in the region can see the writing on the wall"

In Syria, the government has attempted to buy time and pre-empt street protests by bribing millions of government employees (including in particular the security services) with massive pay rises that can only result in higher inflation and worsening conditions for the rest of the population.

The regime certainly does see the writing on the wall but believes it can nip any rebellion in the bud and outsmart the population. Over the last 40 years, it has been successful by systematically eliminating opponents and applying the Chinese model of alternating between strong repression and milder repression. The result has been a hollowing out of the nation of basic ingredients for real economic, technological and cultural progress. Revolution will eventually come but unfortunately it will be bloodier, uglier and more protracted than the Libyan one.