Brotherly Diplomacy!

The current tour by a delegation of the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood which has so far included Lebanon and Turkey is quite a significant event, and the Turkish press knew it and gave it more than its fair share of coverage in Turkish papers.

What is the significance of this event? Well, it comes as a prelude to the May 20th meeting of the National Salvation Front in Brussels, when the final formation of the Front will be decided and its basic mission unveiled. Even though no government in exile will be officially formed at this stage, the NSF is bound to behave as such in many ways, as its leaders plan to embark on a massive diplomatic effort to explain their cause to the world in the following months.

Meanwhile, members of the Muslim Brotherhood are already behaving like statesmen, and are being treated as such, in what could be a good indicator as to how representatives of the NSF will soon be treated.

Indeed, much has been happening over the last few weeks, which will soon be revealed. Some people who have been complaining about the lack of a viable alternative to the Syrian regime might have to wake up and smell the alternative soon.

22 thoughts on “Brotherly Diplomacy!

  1. Ammar,What is your opinion about Khaddam’s chances of leading a possible transitional government should one ever come to fruition?You may have commented on this issue in the past but I am personally not aware of it

  2. EHSANI2, I am responding here to both your question and Alex’s last comment on my previous post. Indeed, I believe that Khaddam is emerging as the most credible figure for this. No, this is not what I would have wished or hoped for, but this what life has dealt us, and frankly, and from a more pragmatic perspective, and having carried extensive email discussions with people who were involved in various transitional processes in Serbia, Chile, Spain, the Philippines, South Africa and elsewhere, he may not such a bad figure at all. Indeed, Khaddam is already acquainted with the system we are trying to change and he knows how to communicate with some of its main figures helping alley their fears regarding change. His presence might also alley the fears of many governments in the region, because he remains a familiar figure, thrusting new figures in their face right now might antagonize them and they can create many problems for us in the transitional period if they are not happy. Moreover, Khaddam himself is rather old, his children are not into politics and, at this stage, he seems more concerned with his place in history than with reinventing the authoritarian system. But no, this does not mean we should follow him blindfolded. Still, and for all the pragmatic reason in the world, therefore, Khaddam might be a rather ideal candidate for the transitional period. This brings me to Alex’s point, we have been betting on Bashar for nearly six years now, but he is clearly not part of the solution. He was chosen because he was meant to preserve the very system we are trying to change, and it, appears that those who chose him knew what they were doing. He is not the sort of person to rebel against them and chart his own path. But, if you are thinking that we can get ALL the people in Bashar’s camp to change their behavior, then I must conclude that you must be using some of that Hasheesh and opium these people are busy smuggling out of the Bekaa Valley. Indeed, we do have to work with some regime figure, perhaps many regime figures, not the Assads, they have had their chance, but they chose to write themselves out of the reform equation. They were not intelligent or farsighted enough to see the benefits that can accrue from leading the reform process. Too bad for them, but let’s hope we can still save the country, even if managing its people is going to be the nightmare we all think it is going to be.

  3. Sorry Ammar, but I’m not sure I’m buying it.Go to the Ikhwan’s website at, click on the search button and type in Khaddam (خدام or خدّام). You won’t even find him mentioned.

  4. I am not really sure what you’re not buying here George. What does it exactly mean that Khaddam is not listed in the search engine of the site. It may not be such a good engine. I have just checked the website and this is one of the first news item I found. It clearly mentions Khaddam and endorses the formation of NSF.

  5. Anyway, you really have to realize that few are supporting Khaddam with any enthusiasm, just as he is not so happy about having to end his life trying to deal with all those “pretenders” who will give him a mouthful about his past yet, given the chance, few will act any differently when they are in position of authority. This is a pragmatic alliance par excellence, not the mutual admiration society, and it is only meant to hold for an important part of the transitional period. I believe this is the best that can be hoped for and achieved at this stage, seeing that the Assads have shown that they are clearly incapable of changing their ways in any significant manner.

  6. :)Ammar, Believe me I am one of those annoying people who go around convincing their friends (usually successfuly) to stop smoking. Never put a single cigarette in my mouth. My opinions are enhanced by Orange juice only.Back to your mystery comments:1) I know that you know things that I do not know, so I will suspend my comments on that issue until I find out what will happen later in May.2) I checked the Ikhwan site. They also have a piece of news that is so predictable; Basically some other “regime” figure will show up again the minute Khaddam becomes a real threat.3) Regarding what will happen later in May … again, I’ll wait and see, but I just want to remind you that since 1977 (When Syria led the opposition to boycott Sadat’s peace innitiative to Israel) there has always been something cooking waiting to be served to the Syrian regime as a surprise. The regime survived surprises like Sadat’s visit to Israel, the fall of the Soviet Empire, the Israeli invasion to Lebanon, the 3 years of MB rebellion supported by every single neighbor of Syria, the Hindawi affair (similar to Hariri’s affair), Turkish threats of invasion … and many many more.Ammar, we all want to go to the same place. I just hope we take the path of least resistance. One that does not lead us to one of theseAnyway, I hope whatever road we take, things turn out fine at the end.

  7. As for my earlier comment on Syria and Lebanon (and on the stupid borders) which were not received with much positivity earlier: Today in Annahar, Noam Chomsky seems to not disagree as much with what I was proposing the past two days .. but of course if he says it Ehsani2 will probably not find it as silly as my copy …وعن أوهام الشرق الأوسط وصراعاته، يقول: “هناك صراع قديم ومستحكم يتعلق بمصير فلسطين، يعود إلى أكثر من مئة سنة. الآن أعتقد كما قلت سابقاً، منذ طفولتي، إن شعوري هو أن الحل يجب أن ينتهي إلى نوع من تسوية بين أمتين. إن كل شريك في هذا الصراع لديه إدعاءات وحقوق وسوى ذلك، وأعتقد أنه يمكن أن يرضى بشكل ما من الفيديرالية بين أمتين، تقترب من حال تكامل، ثم تتحول عموماً جزءاً من شرق أوسط فيديرالي متكامل، ربما من دون أي حدود للدول. هذا يجب أن يحصل على مراحل. إن هذا لا يمكن فرضه البتة على أحد في خطوة واحدة. هناك في الحقيقة مراحل معقولة للغاية”.

  8. I seem to have left the impression that something really ground-moving and earth-shaking is going to take place in the next meeting of NSF later this month. This has not been my intention, all I was saying is this: the NSF is going to emerge as a viable alternative to the Assad regime. How to get that alternative to Syria and shake the Assads’ hold on power is a different issue all together and seems more related to the UN inquiry into the Hariri assassination and the role of the international community than anything else. Still, with a mixture of public diplomacy and some internal dabbling, the NSF could provide some internal troubles for the regime as well before yearend, and that could encourage the international community to be more forthcoming in their pressures on the regime.

  9. As for the path of least resistance, well, that’s not always an option my friend. Sometimes, it is more of a luxury that no one can afford.

  10. The path is always there … there is always a path with the least resistance (compared to all other pathes)… if we can not see it clearly now, then maybe we don’t HAVE TO attempt to go there NOW … or maybe we should re-examine our presumed probabilities:Unlike the simpler case of man-made systems where that path is a deterministic function of an easy to measure voltage differential, in real life where things behave in a probabilistic manner, we end up guessing what is THE path of least resistance. We do that by first assuming some probabilities.During that process, our experience and knowledge help us make a good estimate of the probabilities. On the other hand negative factors (such as: anger) distort our otherwise “logical” estimates.All I am saying is: since we both agree on the goal (we really do) our disagreement is all about our different estimates of probabilities.I probably did not make much sense. It is explained better in this old classic paper on decision making by Simon See section 1.2 page 103.I’ll stop here and go to sleep… like the rest of you who attempted to read this boring post.Now I have the option to just erase or to submit.hmmm … ssssubmit.

  11. Does the path of least resistance mean that we should cooperate with that very group of people who have showed no flexibility for the last 6 years, or any serious desire to reform anything? To me, and having observed and took part in efforts meant to shake the status quo in Syria while not challenging the Assads’ hold on power in any direct manner, I can say with certainty that the Assads path is the path of most resistance. The Assads represent the true force of inertia in the Syrian system. They are the status quo ultimate beneficiaries and protectors, the path of least resistance will have to break through the barrier they represent.

  12. It is very understandable, Ammar .. I know you had direct experience in Damascus … I heard a lot of frustrating stories from many others as well.I told Tony last week my path of least resistance (and he rediculed it of course) … it takes American leadership of a different kind .. more patient (time wise), more balanced … one that can truly make it hard for Bashar to refuse … if he does refuse it, THEN mainstream Syrians will join the opposition in large numbers. Not now… Syrians can be sold when the Americans decide to invest 25 billions in the Syrian economy instead of the 5 millions in support of Farid Ghadry … what do you want Syrians to think of the non-Bashar option when they are championed by a Farid Ghadry and a Jumblat and a khaddam and the MB … or a front including many of the above…Jihad elKhazen summed it up like this: “when I look at our Arab leaders I feel bad. When I look at our Arab opposition leaders, I feel worse”And not all opposition of course, Ammar … but many of the more visible ones are your typical crooks.For referece, here are the details of my suggested road map, or path of least resistance:President Bush makes a deal with Bashar. Offer him publicly their full support for restarting the peace process based on 242. Offer him a positive role to play in Iraq, and offer him … a realistic and constructive role to play in Lebanon (you can’t expect zero Syrian role in Lebanon). Offer him a break from America’s support to his opposition (including the Kurds), as well as promises from Syria’s neighbors to also stop supporting Syrian opposition for a limited time. Offer him economic help (investments, loans, and consulting …. most of which can be requested from the Saudis and other gulf states who are swimming in a lot of extra oil revenues lately) In exchange, Bashar would have to agree to free all political prisoners, to accelerate fighting corruption and economic reforms, and to commit to a two-year plan for free, multi-party parliamentary elections. When these things take place, Hizbollah’s weapons could be discussed at the same time you reform your Lebanese political “democracy” in a way that allows the Shia their fair share of power through true one man one vote elections. When you offer them that reward, they might be willing to give up their weapons … otherwise, don’t even think about about it.Your bicameral assembly suggestions go just fine with such a package.

  13. Alex, Let me first answer your question from the previous post. Who will guarantee the constitution?The power of the” army and the tanks” division is the only way you can guarantee that the country’s constitution will be adhered to. The problem of course is to have the will to first write a secular constitution that will be consequently safe guarded. I am not sure that the country will have the power to pull this off. I would like to be more optimistic but a reality check is in order here:If Bashar is not legally implicated in the Hariri murder in a way that will cause his regime to implode, I think that all bets are off. I do not believe that there is any single group (barring the U.S. army) that can unseat Bashar from power. This may not be what people want to hear but it si the hard truth. Contrary to the consensus, I do not believe that Bashar is out of the woods yet when it comes to the investigation. The entire opposition is hoping that this is the case of course. However, if they are wrong and that Bashar can survive the investigation, then I think we are wasting our time. There is no conceivable way this man is going to relinquish power regardless of whether we all think it is fair or not. What I find ironic is that one would think that an anti Islamic regime like Bashar would be riding high with the U.S. and the international community who view Islamic militancy as their top security concern. Were Bashar to tinker with his system and deliver what the U.S. wants, then his chances of handing over the reign to Hafez Assad junior one day should rise appreciably. In other words, Bashar can easily have the wind behind his back if he chooses to. My suspicion is that once he survives the Hariri investigation, this is precisely what is going to transpire. Is this fair? How can a leader continue at his job when he has failed to deliver over any promises that he has made over the past six years? Regrettably, reforms will remain a far away dream. Standards of living will languish and even decline. Corruption and economic mismanagement will continue to spread like cancer. The Syrian people will watch as others continue to pass them by. Freedom of press, speech and conscience will remain suppressed. All that will remain is a country for the few and where power is absolute with no sight of any checks and balances.The other thing that will remain is a blog industry where Syrians yearning for a change will find refuge to write and dream.

  14. You are right! … in my case: about two hours today blogging … away from last comment for the day (i promise):I believe in the middle ground .. about 5 years from now is the most realistic and safest target date. If all the parties (forces of change) push for that option then things can be moved in a faster, and smoother way starting today…. And 25 years from now, Hafez Junior will be doing his Medicine specialty in England.One last thing Ammar: it took Sadat 7 years after he took power from the legendary Abdel Naser to make his courageous move in 1977. Don’t give up too early on Bashar.

  15. I am reposting my response to Alex’s point on guarantees here. As for the points raised by EHSANI2, I will respond to them in my new post, but for now let me say that I agree with this point: most in the Syrian opposition are hedging their bets on the basis of the UN inquiry and on the possibility of having Bashar implicated in this matter. But, even if Bashar is not directly implicated in this matter, so long as high level Syrian security officers are, Bashar will not be granted a get-out-of-jail-free card so readily. There will be conditions, many conditions, with which he will be saddled for many years to come and perhaps so long as he is in power. There will still be an internal battled to fight. More on this in my new post. The only guarantee that one will not change the constitution once in power is to include an injunction in the constitution against amending it for a period of, say, 25 years. Another idea to make sure that the military will not be controlled by Islamist elements will be to create a military council made up of secular-minded generals and put it in charge of the military appointment, promotions and recruiting practices. Special instructional courses to the military outlining their powers and the military role in society should also be instituted. I can go and on here, but I will not for now. The main point here is that if we want to create an effective system of checks-and-balances that will prevent the Islamization of the state and that will curb the powers of the executive branch, preventing the establishment of a new dictatorial regime, we can actually do it. We only need the political will. The Assads have amply demonstrated that they don’t have it.

  16. Atassi, you don’t want me to go back to work apparently:)my position is:Either “Bahsar” FOR FEW MORE YEARS (during which everyone concentrates on building healthy foundation for democracy, including Bahsar) … or there is a 50-50 chance (not certainty, I really hope not) of the doom scenario.So, …not as extreme as the impression you got earlier.Ammar,I believe there will be no smoking gun .. Bashar personally will not be implicated beyond “he must have known” … which is not enough for anything serious.As a hedging strategy to being squarely in the opposition, please lobby everywhere for your other reasonable options and see if that turns out to be a better investment … you are one of the unique opposition leaders who are respected by both sides.

  17. Thanks Alex, and when you come back, tell me what you think of the new proposal. Is that reasonable enough for you?

  18. This is the first time I write on this blog, and I would like to thank Ammar for this nice blog.You were all discussing how democracy could be established and maintained in Syria. You talked about Khadam, the constitution, the army…But what about the people of Syria?I know this may be harsh, but the reality is that today’s Syrians do not deserve democracy. They don’t have a sense of citizenship.They don’t respect each other. The proof? Take a car and try to drive in the streets of Damascus. Go and try to pay your phone bill. People act like animals. So they deserve to be treated as such!I know this doesn’t apply to all the Syrians, but al least it does to the majority. I know that there are people more responsible about this than others, but the truth is that it is our problems that allowed other people to control us.Syrians did have democracy after the independence, how much did it last? less than 10 years I guess.Why? many reasons, the most important, I think, was that Syrians were given this democracy for granted, they didn’t appreciate it.What, do you think, would happen if a criminal in a European country took over the presidential palace, and made himself a president? What would be the reaction of people.In Syria, people will go to greet their new hero, or they would remain silent at best.So when is it going to happen? Whenever you take a cross section through the Syrian citizens, and you see that they are really changed.This is what I think….

  19. As I always say, we may not be ready for democracy, but we are certainly ready for democratization. The learning process has to begin someday, and no matter what we do, it will be messy.

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