Tank It Up!

Well, here is to the beginning of a new endeavor. Camille-Alexandre Otrakji, who regularly features as Alex in the Comments Section, adding a bit of spice and much humanity to the discussion, has just launched a new initiative, an electronic think tank to be specific, for discussing Syria-related issues.

The Creative Syria Think Tank will feature regular contributions by fellow blogger and favorite sparring partner Joshua Landis, my good friend and perceptive political analyst Murhaf Jouejati of George Washington University, current Syrian Ambassador to the US, Imad Mustapha, the Baath reformer and commentator, Ayman Abdel Nour, charismatic Chatham House expert, Rime Allaf, the rising analyst and historian, Sami Moubayed, the provocative and equally brave journalist, Ibrahim Hmeidi, the world renowned historian and Assad Sr. biographer, Patrick Seale, and last, and indeed least in terms of academic abilities, yours sincerely.

The Think Tank can be accessed here. And here is my contribution for this round, which could also be read on site. Readers can vote for their favorite commentary. This week’s question deals with Syria’s achievement over the pat 40 years in comparison to those of its neighbors.


The Assad Baathist Legacy

Continued commitment to Arab nationalism on part of Syria’s leaders over the last forty years, and while not necessarily fake, served more often to divert people’s attention from the serious lack of internal development and the increasing authoritarian predilections of the regime and its minoritarian character.

Moreover, and this commitment notwithstanding, Syria’s Baathist leaders have consistently failed to establish normal economic and diplomatic relations with their immediate neighbors, including the “brotherly” states of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, with the brunt of the blame in the latter two cases to be born by the Syria leaders and their seeming inability to accept the independence of these two states.

As for Israel, one should never forget that it was specifically under Baath rule that the Golan Heights were lost. We should also bear in mind that late Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad, for all his alleged foresight, has sought and failed throughout the 90s to get a deal that he could have had way back in 1978.

The Baath regime was also unable to maintain normal ties with most West European countries as well as the United States, with dire economic consequences for the country. Assad’s regional ambitions at the time and his ego as he sought to become an heir to Nasser seemed to have played a major role in this.

On the internal front, the socialist policies of the regime and its nationalization program served to discourage the country’s commercial elite from investing in the country, with investments and funds getting diverted to Lebanon and Europe. The corruption of the regime and its minoritarian character has also served to set the scene for the various confrontations that took place with the Muslim Brotherhood. The massacre of 20,000 civilians that took place in Hama in 1982 was unforgivable, especially given the limited number of MB fighters involved (200-500, depending on the account, but no more).

Despite early progress with regard to building more schools, hospitals, roads and factories throughout the country, as well as developing the country’s rural areas, the ensuing neglect of the internal scene since the early 80s, as a result of Assad Sr.’s preoccupation with foreign policy at the expense of everything else, served to offset this early progress.

As a result, Syria, the socialist claims of its leaders notwithstanding, can now boast of:

  1. An unemployment rate well above 25%.
  2. A population where more than 40% live below poverty line.
  3. An inefficient healthcare system.
  4. An imploding educational system.
  5. A decaying national infrastructure.
  6. An increasing gap in development between the Eastern parts (especially areas with Kurdish concentration) and the western parts, despite the fact that Syria’s breadbasket and oil and gas reserves happen to located in the East.
  7. Growing sectarian divides, especially with regard to the Sunnis and Alawites.

So, how does Syria’s situation compare to its neighbors? Well, Syria may not have witnessed a long civil war as was the case in Lebanon, was not invaded as a whole, as was the case with Iraq, and it does not have a massive foreign debt as is the case with Jordan and Lebanon. But, on the other hand, Syria does not have a peace deal with Israel, as is the case with Jordan and Egypt, which means that there are a lot of Syrian families still waiting to go back to their homes in the Golan and be reunited with their families there. Moreover, Syria is now more isolated than ever, does not receive much foreign aid or direct investments, and its regime is the most corrupt and cruel of all existing Arab regimes.

This is the legacy of the Baath and the Assad regime.


12 thoughts on “Tank It Up!

  1. Congrats for a very cogent contribution. I think that the similarity between your essay and that of Ms. Allaf is a demonstration that clear thinking leads to logical positions while the other two essays; Landis and Mustapha; had a hollow ring to them. Mr. Mustapha decided that the progress or lack of it in one country can never be compared to that of another, he is obviously wrong on this score. While Mr. Landis ,as usual, played the role of the apologist by neglecting all issues except that of security since in that area the Ba’ath has not been a total disaster. (Is his mother-in-law related to the Assads by any chance?:-), I mean there must be a logical explanation for all the gymnastics that he is willing to go thgrough in order to defend the Assada).Keep up the good work. BTW, I could not locate the link to cast a vote. My vote , if I can cast it, would be like this: Ammar A+Allaf A-Mustapha CLandis C-

  2. Ghassan,Voting on articles only appears for registered users. We decided to limit it to registered members only to avoid multiple votes. One vote per email. Otherwise people can clear their browser’s cache and vote again.If you wish to register, the link is near the top left area of the page:http://www.creativesyria.com/discussion/thinktank.phpyou should click on: “Register as new member”

  3. Bit of a tangent, if I may Ammar.At one point you say that Assad Sr failed at getting a deal with Israel re Golan Heights.IMHO, the Baath in general and the Assad Baath in particular knew all along that a peace deal would be the end of them.Same can be said of reform now.The regime apologists like to say, when things get better, or when Israel throws them a bone things will improve.Wrong. The regime is not interested in reform or peace because it cannot survive them. (State of war justifies state of emergency, in turn used to shut down freedom which would otherwise destroy the regime). Furthermore the economic results you cite are about par for (centralized) socialism: no suprise there. Not in spite of socialism, because of socialism.As to Apologist-in-chief Landis. Here’s a guess. He always was a wide-eyed American eager to go native.I.e. he’s the outsider who marries the moslem/catholic/buddhist girl and becomes more moslem/catholic/buddhist than the mullah/pope/dalai lama. We all know guys like that.

  4. Thanks Ghassan. Indeed, Rime and I seem to be on the same page. I was really surprised to see how close our line of thought was. As for voting, you have to register first before you can vote. The button for that is in the left margine.

  5. I agree with your overall assessment Josey, and I have repeatedly made similar arguments on this blog. I simply did not have enough space within the agreed format to delve into Assad’s motives or the nature of socialism. As for Josh, frankly, I, too, was rather surprised by his reductionist take on the matter, considering that he was the one to have proposed this particular topic. Be that as it may, I think the four contributions, no mater how brief, do provide an interesting basis upon future arguments and issued can be established, which, I believe, was Josh’s intention. I just hope that he would less elusive in the future. As for Imad, I think he pulled a disappearing act on us. His was a non-answer, pure and simple.

  6. One must be self critical as well Ammar. Your piece, although well written, cannot be considered objective. Your hate for the Assads, whether justified or not, has impeded your ability to be uhhh “fair”. “its regime is the most corrupt and cruel of all existing Arab regimes.” Give me a break man. I might have swallowed something more like “AS CORRUPT as most existing Arab regimes” While definitely no beacon of democracy I have always had a hard time buying such exaggerated claims when I can hardly think of any regime in our lovely neighborhood that would scream “better” than the Syrian one. I am not saying two wrongs make right but just not so black and white. Alex – Great initiative, good job.

  7. IC, I agree that I tended to exaggerate there a little, for the government of Sudan, for instance, is far worse considering what is taking place in Darfur these days, and their duplicity in it. Still, in forums such as Creative Syria, where there are people who hold point of view that are more regime friendly, some measure of exaggeration is required. I want it to very clear that I advocate a complete break with the Assads. I won’t mince words in this regard.

  8. And you shouldn’t if thats what you believe in. But even still I dont think Sudan is the only example, Egypt’s situation is not far better than ours. While Saudi, Kuwait, Iran, Qatar etc are far worse when it comes to human/women’s rights etc. And politically speaking, at least on an international level in general and during Hafez Al Assads reign specifically, Syria held IMHO a far better position than the rest of the region. At the very least we did not have the whorish policies that Tunisia, Egypt and the Gulf have.

  9. IC, Thank you so much. I’m happy you found the think tank useful.Regarding Ammar’s position on yesterday’s question, he represents a popular point of view that so many Syrians agree with, without his contribution, and Rime’s, we would have had what many people would see as “regime friendly forum”. I am happy that no one so far suspected us of taking sides. We will actually, tryt o add another “opposition” figure, we can’t force Ammar and Rime to be there every week.And, lastly, because we are dealing with very serious issues these days, with the Middle East full of tension, The Think Tank is meant to be a more pleasant and relaxed place for both sides to meet… it makes more of Ammar’s readers read Joshua, and vice versa.This week was not the best week to launch, with what happened in Damascus. But we are hoping more participation will take place in the future. Hundreds of people visited the page yesterday, 25 registered, 7 voted.Now, too bad I can not comment on the four articles I read! (I am supposed to remain neutral). Not fun.

  10. I really like this CreativeSyria idea. One quip though: why don’t they host the comments section on their own website? Why is it on each person’s blog? That seems kind of strange.I added my ratings to the ones posted, however I am wondering why it is not possible to rate the response written by Dr Imad Moustapha. Maybe it is simply a bug on the website, but if not it seems unfair that he should be exempted from public review.Then again, is that not the style of the Syrian government?

  11. Yaman, to answer your two questions1) most of the other contributors have no blogs, so comments on their articles will be hosted at creative syria. When they contribute to future debates, you will see a comments section. As for Ammar, Joshua, and Rime … I intentionally wanted to make more Joshua readers try Ammar’s blog, and vice versa. Many readers only read things which agree with their own points of view. Others simply do not know that Syria comment exists or that Rime’s Mosaics exists.I was surprised for example when I postde two weeks ago a link to Ammar’s site at Syria comment … that was the first time Ehsani knew of Ammar’s blog.Last two days, 222 people from Syria comment clicked and checked creative Syria’s think tank, about 72 I think from Amar’s blog.2) regarding tha lack of interactivity on Dr. Moustapha’s page (no comments and no ratings). All analysts have the option to enable or disable ratings, so again, you probably will find others (Patrick Seale?) who will not want ratings as well. To be honest, I think it is not fair to penalize Dr. Moustapha for times when he is limited, like any ambassador, by his country’s official positions on things. Unlike all other contributors, he probably won’t be free to express any potential personal opinion he has. Obviously his opinions are not always 100% identical to those of the Syrian government he represents.I also appreciate the fact that he is willing to participate in this open and free forum where nothing is pre-decided or pre-approved by the foreign ministry in Damascus.We need him and Ammar to be there to 1) convince people from both sides that we are neutral2) to make both sides read and find out that all parties have decent things to say … Ammar is not a traitor, and Dr. moustapha is not an old fashioned baathists.

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