Whose Syria Is It?

The Muslim Brotherhood was not making so much trouble before the arrival of Hafiz Assad to power, and Syrian society was not as religious 40 years ago as it is today. Oh yeah, leave it to a socialist nationalist secular regime to drive a rich country into poverty and knock a relatively open society back into the maze of sectarian belongings and traditional piety.


Yet, and while the growing religiosity of Syrian society tends to be part of a larger regional trend, we cannot just ignore the absurdity of it taking place in a country like Syria at the hands of the secular-cum-sectarian Assads. For here is a minoritarian regime playing with the fires of majoritarian extremism in the hope of actually prolonging its lifespan!!?? Come on!

What the Assads are actually doing, in spite of themselves it seems, is this: knowing, at a certain deep level, that their demise is indeed imminent, they are busy preparing the entire society, the entire country in fact, for taking the final leap with them over the edge and into the abyss that will mark the end of it all. As such, the Assads are doing two things simultaneously: working out their own demise and exacting their vendetta vis-à-vis the rest of the country, their own community included.

This is why we need something like the National Salvation Front, a pragmatic alliance of all major political currents on the scene in Syria: Baath elements who, for whatever reason, are ready to adopt a reform agenda, Islamists who can still talk to, leftist currents that can still represent the majority of the intellectual and artistic class in the country, and a few liberals to speak for the interests of the business class and the emerging new intellectual class.

This is why we need to accept the principle of cooperation with the likes of Khaddam and Bayanouni, among other controversial figures. For, on the short term, we really have no other viable alternative, seeing that we need to simultaneously kick the Assads out yet keep the country together. In fact, we need to prevent them from tearing the country apart in some act of stupidity and vindictiveness. This should be our short-term goal.

Indeed, we need the more pragmatic Islamists (and, no, I won’t necessarily use the term moderate here) to curb the more fanatical Islamists. We need Baathists to appeal to other Baathists. We need old regime figures to appease the fears of other old regime figures. We need secular Sunnis to appease the fears of the secular currents, including the country’s many minorities. And we most assuredly need Alawites to alley the fears of the other Alawites and convince them to keep their guns holstered.

Democratization is not the name of the game at this stage then, it is survival – the survival of a country. We need to save Syria from the Assads and their adventurist politics, we need to save it from those who’d rather err on the side of doom than caution, even as they play with the fate of an entire country.

25 thoughts on “Whose Syria Is It?

  1. Ammar,can you tell me which policies you want Syria to change and what kind of a platform that Khadam and Bionini want for Syria ,the whole idea that you have to be muslem to be in the mijority is anti democratic as you well know the problem with moslem brothers is that not all Syrians can join and that is racism so i understand having a moslem brotherhood sociaty like the christian majority in the US but to have a party where some Syrians can not join is not acceptable to many Syrians ,about the past and i do not want to go back and play the blame game ,but i don,t know if you know that the servents in the sunni houses were Alawat and that the mountains of Syria were neglected and that the reason why the Alawat joined the army and the Baath party was because they felt equal in these institutions ,what concern me is that the only reason that Khadam was forgiven for all his bad deeds is because he is Sunni and that reminds with killing that happened only to university teachers who were Alawat or Christians during the late seventies, i was in medical school in Damascus and we lost many teachers because they were Alawat or Christians ,no corupt sunni ever attacked ,these people (the MB) can not be trusted.what Syria needs are good people not only muslem or sunni people ,untill the opposition declare a platform indicating clear economic plan and position on the Palestenian problem and the occupied Syrian land and on iraq and their intention to have equality with protection of minority rights they will have no support from the minorities in Syria.

  2. Ammar,Interesting ideas!Would love to hear any comments you may have on my recent post on Syria comment comparing Bashar to Musharaaf

  3. I think Ammar over simplified it, Norman over complicated it a bit …Most Alawites today got over the older issues of Alawite servants in Sunni homes or even the terrorist killings of minority professors by the MB over 26 years ago. On the other hand, getting a few Alawite dissidents to join the opposition is not going to make much difference in making Alawites more at ease with the NSF.If you want to understand how the Alawites think, look at the way the Christians voted in the latest Lebanese elections. Sure, those elections united a large number of Lebanese from different religions under the anti Syrian regime (or anti-Syria) coalition led by Hariri. Yet, on elections day, the Christians voted for the only STRONG and INDEPENDENT Christian candidate who did not join the coalition of Saad Hariri, unlike the other Christian leaders Geagea and Gemayel.The Lebanese Christian minority wanted 1) independent and 2) strong Christian leadership to represent them.Same thing with Syria’s Alawites, the NSF is basically led by Sunni Khaddam and Sunni MB, the rest of the personalities are very gray. There will be Alawite and ex-regime figures joining them, but that will do nothing to get the majority of Alawites to trust their future to the leadership of Khaddam and the MB.Except of course if the other ex VP joined the NSF? (I’m not serious here)Ammar, please do join the NSF and push for these two things BEFORE they carry on with their “democracy campaign”:1) Approve your bicameral assembly proposal that will assure minorities about their rights and their safety. and2) produce a very clear declaration from the MB regarding their vision towards Syria’s minorities.If the NSF can get that far then1) it will become more respectable in the eyes of Syrian minorities.2) it will challenge “the regime” to reciprocate (Accepting the bicameral assembly proposal for example) or, again, that would expose them for being the real trouble makers.

  4. if we consider the number of university profesors,intellectuals,academics,university students ,99% of them were killed by the regime of hafez asad.This report show the level of distaster that targeted the syrian scientists.http://newton.nap.edu/html/syria/the syrian universitites were the best in the region prior to asad today they are the worse ,the university professors with doctorates from western or lebanese universities were replaced by baathists with fake degrees from the former soviet union.

  5. if we consider the number of university profesors,intellectuals,academics,university students killed during the events ,99% of them were killed by the regime of hafez asad.This report show the level of distaster that targeted the syrian scientists.http://newton.nap.edu/html/syria/the syrian universitites were the best in the region prior to asad today they are the worse ,the university professors with doctorates from western or lebanese universities were replaced by baathists with fake degrees from the former soviet union.

  6. The people are exhausted from poverty,corruption,fear and hypocrit slogans ,it’s likely that many in Syria placed their hopes in NS front,even among the baath members,but any person who dare to claim his support inside the country will be jailed or killed.The things are burning behind baath facade.

  7. Anonymous … I partially agree with most of what you stated. I never claim that corruption needs to be tolerated or that “the regime” did not do many mistakes and commit many violent acts…. all my comments are intended to balance other extreme anti-regime comments. There aren’t many saints in the Middle East, or in politics in general, that’s all.

  8. Ammar, I have been receiving weekly emails from some Assyrian group always complaining at the way the Kurds tret them.Both groups are active members in Syrian opposition groups and they look like they are working together to introduce democracy to Syria. My point is: who says things will be better merely by “taking the Assad’s out”?Here …حزب بارزاني الكردي يقلد البعثيين في تعامله مع الاشوريين!اعلن الاكراد في شمال العراق عن قيام حكومة كردية موحدة. وما يهمنا في الامر، ان اخوتنا الاكراد لم يحترموا العملية الانتخابية التي جرت في نهاية العام الماضي، وبدل منح وزارة للحركة الديمقراطية الاشورية التي حصدت اكثرية اصوات الاشوريين الكلدان السريان في الانتخابات السابقة، قام البرزانيون وعلى غرار البعثيين بمنح ثلاثة حقائب وزراية لاناس محسوبون على شعبنا، اما انهم منتمون لحزب بارزاني الكردي او هم عملاء له، تماما مثلما كان يقوم حزب البعث بتعيين مسيحيين بعثيين في مناصب عليا وطارق عزيز افضل مثال. وازاء هذا النهج الكردي المتطرف تجاه الاشوريين الكلدان السريان في العراق نقول نحن امة ضعيفة استطاع الاكراد بعد القضاء علينا في تحويل ما تبقى منا الى واجهة لبيرهنوا من خلالها على انهم يحترمون حقوق الشعوب الاصلية لمنطقة الشمال العراقية!؟؟

  9. Norman, The platform of the NSF will be announced soon, before month-end to be specific. As for the MB, among other Islamist groups out there, yes indeed, their ideologies are definitely discriminatory, but we do have a considerable fraction of our population that endorses these ideologies, and if we don’t find ways to accommodate them within the existing political system, they might just turn violent. Indeed, we are being blackmailed, and I don’t like that at all, but the Assads are blackmailing us too, and I don’t like that either. By cooperating with a pragmatic Islamist group, we are opting for something that will shake up the existing system while offering some hope for keeping the country together. These calculations might be wrong of course. But the Assads have proven, to me at least, that they are a lost bet, so I cannot endorse the status quo represented by them anymore. I’d rather see the Street move and rebel against the whole lit of us, for all the mayhem this might initially bring, for a Living Street offers a hope of growth and maturity as well. unfortunately though, the Street moves in accordance to its own particular beat, one that remains inaudible to most of us, and undecipherable to others. I am one of the “others” I guess. Alex, I agree with you, the Alawites would want to be represented by people they can trust, and those who might join the NSF, sooner or later, may be found wanting in this regard. But their presence will at least send a message to the effect the NSF is not an anti-Alawite alliance, and that Alawite are welcome. But eventually, I hope, the electoral process that will be instituted following regimefall will serve to allow the people from different communities, parties and ideological currents to select the candidates that inspire their trust. Still, I will indeed push for the adoption of something along the lines of the bicameral assembly and we will push the MB to further clarify their stand vis-à-vis the country’s minorities. I, too, think this is important. We do need to send a very strong message to the Syrian people in all their diversity in order to alley any fears they might have with regard to challenging status quo and seeking to change it. EHSANI2, I think your arguments are pretty cogent indeed. If some of your critics sought to poke hole into your argument by pointing at the conflicting US policies with regard to Syria, I don’t really think the US policies were any less conflicting towards Pakistan as well. Indeed, one can make a pretty argument that the US showed much more sympathy to the Indian point of view and to Indian interests than to Pakistani ones. The Pakistanis have much to gripe about here as well. But I think the main point of your comparison was lost in the shuffle. Your point, as I understood it, was to show how far a little statesmanship can go in allowing a weak and haggard state to maneuver its way back to a more viable position, albeit it remains far from being perfect, as indeed the reforms adopted by Aziz did not result in any “trickle down” effect with regard to the rapidly disintegrating Pakistani middle class. Politically, I, too, believe that Musharraf did not come under pressure as much as Bashar did, but that’s was not simply because the US was being unreasonable. I think this is related more to the early stands that Bashar adopted vis-à-vis the invasion of Iraq, as you pointed out, but more importantly, to Musharraf’s own ability to sell his bullshit line on needing to move carefully against the Islamist in his own army and security apparatuses so as to avoid a backlash, etc. etc. This is, in essence, the difference between a statesmen and a thug. A statesman can sell his bullshit, a thug can only shovel it around. But then, Musharraf had to climb his way to the top of the military, not inherit it. He “earned” his position, considerations of the legitimacy and legality of military coups notwithstanding, and did not have it handed down to him. A good statesman can create some room for maneuver for himself, his regime and his country, a thug can only maneuver himself and all the rest into a corner. This is not an endorsement of Musharraf ‘s rule of course, if I were a Pakistani I’d still be working for the creation of something better, but: 1) I wouldn’t have called the President an idiot in international press, 2) I’d still be in Pakistan, 3) I would not be calling for regime change, and 4) I would be focusing on more developmental than political activities, being more in harmony with myself, which means that my real battle would have been with the ignorant and the Islamists.

  10. Let’s face it Alex, very few are really happy under the Assads, but unless we make change sexy enough and more promising, by throwing ideas like the bicameral assembly, and more decentralized rule, no one is likely to endorse it. People everywhere just fear change when its effects on their lives promise to be so far reaching. I know that we have a tough sell ahead in order to get the Street in all its diversity on our side. I also know that the strength of our arguments is not enough. We need to offer a better and more appealing vision of the future. In this, the presence of people like Khaddam and Bayanouni might appear to weaken our position, but, I believe, it all depends on how we choose to package our message. We have some smart packing to do, I tell you that.

  11. Alex,when we are in front of a disease ,we must cure it,and time is deciding factor,do u think that a minority family regime and whose vital pillars are clientelism,corruption,terror,killing,sectarianism , for the sake of one family,is that situation healthy for the syrian body or a tumour in it ?It’s obvious ,that such regimes are hatred generators that will lead to more division and more extremism.Alex,why should we always expect the bad scenario knowing that syrian society had always been a cosmopolitan,moderate ,open minded and tolerant?U say that the region lack of saints,this true ,but the syrian regime is the worse devil.

  12. Alex,when we are in front of a disease ,we must cure it,and time is deciding factor,do u think that a minority family regime and whose vital pillars are clientelism,corruption,terror,killing,sectarianism , for the sake of one family,is that situation healthy for the syrian body or a tumour in it ?It’s obvious ,that such regimes are hatred generators that will lead to more division and more extremism.Alex,why should we always expect the bad scenario knowing that syrian society had always been a cosmopolitan,moderate ,open minded and tolerant?U say that the region lack of saints(dictators),this true ,but the syrian regime is the worse devil.

  13. Ammar ,I want change too but not through violence ,violence only brings more violence and that what Syria does not need ,the question yes whose Syria is it ,and i say it is the Syria that Syrians want not you and i who are living outside the country , we all talk about the bad things in Syria may be because you did not go to Damascus university as i did and graduated with no debt ,isn,t that worth some gratitute to the Baath party and the Syrian gov ,syria,s gov did what they know ,the problem they did not know much about solving Syria,s problem and did not seek help thinking that the solutions should be only Syrian made so the people,s life did not improve and what made things worse that the Syrians tend to think that even cleaning the streets needs an order from the central gov,so there is no initiative in the counties to solve problems on a local level, encluding fighting coruption which can be done by the county district attorny I wish Syria,s gov will stop trying to think for itself and adopt the American laws in the economy ,legal and politecal systems , make elections local matters where people will vote for people they know not for religion or a family name or an ethnic group , i do not know Syrians in the US who are not succesful and that is because of the American System.

  14. Norman, I think Baath rule destroyed local initiative. Transferring Syria into a police state taught its people to live safely and avid rocking the boat. Still, yes, you are right, I am not going to blame all of our problems in Syria on the Baath, and I am not going to demonize the Baath, which is why I refer to the Assad regime more than to the Baath regime these days. Indeed, my father was a member of the Baath before he left after the coup of 1963. He did not believe in coups. As for not being a graduate from the University of Damascus, indeed, I had the fortune of being able to attend college here in the States, but, I returned to Syria in 1994 without having an American passport or a Green Card in hand, and all those patriotic Syrians called me an idiot (they might have been right), and I have only left the country on a rather permanent basis on September 7, 2005. So, I really don’t think of myself as an outsider yet. I was working for change on the inside, when the call came, and the meeting took place, and a “compromise” was reached allowing me to leave the country instead of getting…, whatever. I was told they won’t make a hero of me. This, and a certain look, a certain gaze, said quite a lot. But, what can I say? Washington, DC is not a bad place to be exiled in. I am lucky.

  15. On the subject of violence and ‘curing the disease’….using this metaphor…..it seems to me that one always has to consider if the medicine prescribed to cure this disease or the knife to cut out the tumour….will kill the patient at the same time. If you think this cancer is so big and powerful, and it is so late in the game, then perhaps poisoning your patient with chemotherapy….is worth the risk. But if there is still time….then I think it better to always stear away from the violence cure…..and seek to cure the body, the civic one in this case, by feeding it a healthy diet. Forget fighting a disease head on, and instead combat its power by building up the vital immune system of the country. No knives are needed when the healthy aspects become the more powerful. Using the Mafia metaphor (or reality as the case may be)…..it makes me think of real mafia families and strongholds in the US or elsewhere. Nobody every truly destroys them in direct battle. They have their strength through entrenched structures of loyalty, secrecy, and payment. Even the american legal system could barely put a dent in the italian Mafia. Tax evasion was the best the FBI could do!….ok…so how is it the Mafia comes apart (for the most part) finally? It starts to eat it own tail!…the bloodletting gets out of hand……and loyalties go out the window….Yes, external pressures play a role, but …..Essentially, when only when legitimacy finally becomes more attractive than endless paranoia and vendetta, than slowly but surely members start defecting,,,, breaking vows of secrecy. The light of day breaks in. And the tight structure starts to crack apart. The beast will kill itself in the end. Meanwhile,,,, let those who are hopeful aspirants of a better system work on the alternatives to the rule of the beast.I appreciate Ammar’s more positive articulation in the last comment…of the need for some very shrewd selling of a package. I could not agree more…..”We need to offer a better and more appealing vision of the future.” This is the biggest weapon available. I think you can make arguments till hell freezes over about the inadequacies and corruption of the current leaders, but unless you can articulate, illustrate, and SELL a new vision and a tangible offer of prosperity, your ‘Street’ will not sign on or support dramatic change.

  16. And Ammar, I am not optimistic about the NSF, but if you can be there and make a real difference, then best wishes. I hope you prove me wrong.

  17. Thanks Alex. But I am not sure if I driven by optimism or by the necessity of acting. Perhaps, it’s a little of both.

  18. Anonymous, i will repeat something I said last week during a heated discussion (with a non-Syrian reader):Anyone willing to go for the surgical solution … go there and do it yourself. If you are not willing to sacrifice your own life in the process, please do not be too generous with sacrificing other people’s lives… Bin Laden is good at that type of heroism.There is always a way … If Ammar had a very disappointing 2-year experience in Damascus, I guess that means one thing only:During those two years, things were not right. It takes two to Tango … before going for chaos (a high probability in case of regime change), try first to find ways to make BOTH the regime and those who made it a habit to pressure and corner the regime, to change their old ways.It seems that roughly half of you can only see the regime’s mistakes, and the other half only see “America’s” mistakes.I agree with Zenobia who was saying … fix the mentality of our people first …fairness, balance, learning how to disagree in a civil way, keeping religion out of politics … If you take out the tumor, and the patient still smokes, Drinks, eats junk food, and has a history of cancer in the family … he will have a new tumor soon after…. more surgeries?

  19. Ammar has mentioned the term “statesman” several times in the past. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (Yes my reference again), a statesman is defined as follows:“One who takes a leading part in the affairs of a state or body politic; esp. one who is skilled in the management of public affairs” Bashar sure takes a “leading part” in the affair or Syria but is he SKILLED in the management of PUBLIC affairs? I think this is what Ammar implicitly thinks about when he refers to the lack of statesmanship.Skill in the management of Public affairs is an interesting definition of the word.1- Skill: By any standard, our young President has come up short here. His handling of the economic challenges and the broad geopolitical currents has been unsatisfactory at best. The only exhibited skill has been in the area of security where he had delegated and outsourced the task to his brother and brother-in-law.2- Public affairs: In the past 6 years, I am hard pressed to see how the interests of the public was served. Unless the word “public” refers to Mr.Makhlouf of course.Many commentators here and elsewhere seem to live in a world of fantasy. It never ceases to amaze me to read the number of people who continue to think that Bashar will somehow wake one morning and decide to Reform. While I have my dictionary handy, let me define the word “reform” too:“The amendment, or altering for the better of some faulty state of things, esp. of a corrupt or oppressive political institution or practice; the removal of some abuse or wrong”Mr. President,You sure have a lot of reform to do based on the above definition.

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