Brother/Sister, Where Art Thou?

This is the study that I have prepared during my first stint as a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution (July-December 2004). Though completed, the study was never published by Brookings, it was simply too whimsical to pass as a policy paper, and although I had permission to publish it elsewhere while acknowledging that it was prepared at Brookings, I got too caught up with the activities of the Tharwa Project and my the interrogations I faced upon my return to Syrian to follow up on this.  Continue reading

For Syrian optimists, now is the time to reconsider

Special to The Daily Star

If the last five years in Syria have shown anything, it is that the country’s Baath regime cannot accommodate serious reforms – economic, political or structural. As such, the lackluster nature of the recent Baath congress and its recommendations were not surprising. If anything, the Baath simply lived up to its, by now, well-established reputation as the party of missed opportunities and disappointments.  Continue reading

Syria Squeezed: Are We Free Yet?

Dispatches by Elisabeth Eaves

… What is going on now is a lot of testing of “red lines,” as everyone in Damascus seems to call them. People are saying things and publishing things. But many of them, like al-Bounni and Ammar Abdulhamid, who heads the minority-rights Tharwa Project, are engaged in a harrowing pas de deux with the government. Al-Bounni and Abdulhamid are both barred from leaving the country. Intelligence officials have interrogated Abdulhamid three times since January. Al-Bounni has seen his siblings and friends thrown in jail for peaceful political speech. No one testing the limits knows when the next crackdown might come or what will provoke it. Continue reading

New openings for Arab democracy

By Nicholas Blanford and Gretchen Peters, The Christian Science Monitor

In a surprise announcement Saturday, Egypt’s long-ruling president, Hosni Mubarak, ordered constitutional changes that would open the door for the first-ever multiparty presidential elections in the world’s most populous Arab country. The move is the latest indication of a cautious democratic shift under way in the Arab world. Continue reading

Syrian media reform: a glass half full or half empty?

Special to The Daily Star

The Syrian media have not shown any serious signs of change since the Baath Party assumed power in a 1963 coup. Indeed, Syria’s media sector is one of the most tightly controlled in the Arab world. Most publications are state-owned, and rarely express nonconformist opinions. The coming to power of young President Bashar Assad in 2000 raised hopes that the regime would loosen the reigns significantly. But after a brief period of decompression in 2001 known as the “Damascus spring,” Assad enacted a publications law that consolidated government control; he allowed the licensing of just one “independent” political magazine, owned by the son of the minister of defense; and he cracked down hard on dissent. Continue reading

In Syria, Building a Civil Society Book by Book

The Chronicle of Higher Education

Damascus, Syria 

Leave it to others to devise grand programs for bringing democracy to the Middle East: Ammar Abdulhamid wants to lay the intellectual foundations of citizenship one book at a time.

Two years ago, with a small group of Syrian writers and academics here, Mr. Abdulhamid, a 38-year-old American-educated historian and novelist, founded DarEmar, a nonprofit publishing house dedicated to making canonical works of Western philosophy, social science, and literature available in Arabic. His goal, he says, is to print books that will foster “debate on a broad range of issues pertaining to civil society and democratization.”  Continue reading