2012-12-24T19:15:20.261-05:00Global media fail to accurately report on Bashar al-Assad's anti-peace statements that he made in Madrid, where he said: 1) "ٍٍٍٍٍٍٍٍٍSigning peace agreement does not mean actual peace, but more like a permanent ceasefire."2) “Should there be peace with Israel, an Israeli Embassy will open in Damascus, but it will be besieged and no one will dare enter.”3) “Should there be peace with Israel, no tourists will come nor businessmen.”4) "There will be no popular sympathy for any peace achieved with Israel." Reading through Assad's statements we can only conclude that a peace deal with Israel will not alter the status quo, so why should Israel return the Golan Heights? Conclusion: BasharAl-Assad of Syria is either the most stupid peace negotiator in history, or aman who is not interested in peace in any way, or both. So, Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton, are you happy with the fruits of your engagement? "استبعد الرئيس السوري إمكانية التوصل إلى سلام مع إسرائيل قريبا وأكد أن السلام يعني علاقات طبيعية بين الطرفين وأن توقيع اتفاقية السلام لا يعني تحقيقه، وإنما هو أشبه بوقف إطلاق نار دائم. ونقلت وسائل الإعلام الرسمية وشبه الرسمية عن الرئيس السوري خلال اليوم الأخير في ختام جولته اللاتينية التي شملت زيارة فنزويلا وكوبا والبرازيل والأرجنتين قوله: إن التعاطف الشعبي سيكون معدوما (إذا ما تحقق السلام مع إسرائيل) وسيكون هناك سفارة (إسرائيلية في دمشق) مطوقة لا أحد يجرؤ على دخولها ولا سياح سيأتون ولا تجار."النتيجة إذاً أن التوصل إلى اتفاقية سلام مع إسرائيل لن يؤدي إلى أي تغيير في الوضع الحالي من وجهة نظرها، إذاً، لماذا ستعيد إسرائيل الجولان؟ خوفاً من الجيش السوري؟ إكراماً لخاطرالأسد؟ الخلاصة: إما أن بشار الأسد هو أغبى مفاوض في التاريخ، أو أنه لايريد السلام، أو الإثنان معاً – وهو المرجح. فهنيئاً لأمة أنجبت بشار الأسد، ورأسته عليها ورقصت فرحة به! وهنيئاً لأوباما وكلينتون على النتائج الإيجابية لانفتاحهما على وحوارهما مع الأسد...[...]
2007-03-18T04:17:57.299-04:00Well, it finally had to happen, I guess. I have just moved my blog to the Tharwa Community. It can be accessed using the following link:
2007-02-24T19:00:16.396-05:00In 1998, only 219 Syrians voted against Hafez Assad's government. One of them was Ammar Abdulhamid. Now exiled and awaiting political asylum in US, Syrian opposition leader talks to Ynet in exclusive interview.Yitzhak BenhorinWASHINGTON – In a national referendum held by late Syrian President Hafez Assad in 1998, only 219 people voted against the government. One of them was Ammar Abdulhamid, 40, a Syrian opposition activist, exiled from Damascus in 2005 and currently awaiting political asylum in the United States."The security agents give you a paper with a circle saying 'yes' and a circle saying 'no.' I voted 'no', and the person in front of me was shocked. He said, 'Look, you made a mistake. You said 'no' to the president.' He thought I had made a mistake. We expected for some time that somebody would come and say, 'Come with me', but it didn't happen. For 219 people, they didn't give a damn."In his first interview with an Israeli news agency, Abdulhamid tells Ynet how he frequently took risks, wrote articles against the president and generally pissed off the Syrian administration, until they got tired of him and showed him the door.In Washington he serves as representative of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a Syrian reform group operating abroad against President Bashar Assad’s regime.So why didn’t they show him to a prison cell instead of deporting him? Abdulhamid believes it is because his mother was superstar actress Muna Wassef, one of Syrian’s most famous TV celebrities.“It wasn’t easy to arrest the son of such a famous and popular actress,” he says.Enemy of the regimeWith long brown hair tied back in a ponytail and an easygoing demeanor, Abdulhamid isn’t exactly how one might imagine a Syrian reformist. His English is refined and he demonstrates impressive knowledge. He declares that he doesn’t believe in God and he has no qualms about talking with Israelis.The first time he left Syria’s borders was in 1986, when he came to the United States to study at the University of Wisconsin. He returned to Damascus in 1994, but after a decade relocated to the US again, this time on a research fellowship at the Brookings Institute in Washington, DC. At the end of the fellowship, he returned to Syria – a rather surprising move considering the vehemently anti-Syrian articles he published while in Washington.How did you become an enemy of the Syrian regime?"They told me to leave, over a variety of issues. Apparently the project I was doing was a main issue. It was on majority-minority relations. So I am basically trying to create grassroots dialogue between different sects. I started in 2001, but officially in 2003." So what did you do that was so wrong that they told you to leave?"We were accused of fomenting the very thing we were trying to combat, which is sensitivities between the majority and minority. But I think what they are afraid of is these issues being raised at the popular level and being resolved at the popular level because our regime survives by exploiting the fears between the sects."In 2004 he left for Washington, where he wrote for the English-language Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star. He wrote a joint article with Israeli professor Moshe Maoz on the need to renew the Israeli-Syrian peace process. It was the first time a Syrian and an Israel had written something together which appeared publicly.Hariri murder was last strawDespite his severely critical writings, Abdulhamid returned to Syria. He said he didn’t want to make trouble, and even made a commitment to hold his pen and stop writing against the regime. The quiet lasted until the regime arrested a group of Syrian intellectuals, followed shortly thereafter by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and Abdulhamid could no longer keep quiet.“I was a loud-mouth, I couldn't control my tongue. When Hariri was assassinated a lot of people started pouring into Syria and asking questions, 'Who did it?' a[...]
2007-02-20T01:59:05.629-05:00The Saudis, led by prince Bandar, seems to be doing a really great job trying to break up the HISH Alliance. They are doing this by engaging both the weakest and strongest links in the Alliance. Indeed, and rather than trying to wean the proven hopeless Assads off of their dependence on Iran and Hezbollah, as the pro-engagement crowd in the US was want to do, the Saudis went straight to the source, to the puppet-masters themselves, and showed them the wisdom of divesting themselves from the pesky and troublemaking Assads. In the meantime, they managed to sponsor an important summit in Mecca in which they sponsored a deal between the warring factions in Gaza, and reestablished their patronage over the weakest link in the Alliance – Hamas. Net results, the Assads are once again isolated, and the region might have taken the first real steps towards a compromise that can help most parties involved avert a disastrous and unnecessary showdown. This is at least the scenario that seems to be unfolding these days, according to the reading of some observers.In truth, however, it is indeed still too early in the day to celebrate and uncork those champagne bottles. This is not a done deal by far, and there are still plenty of opportunities to sabotage the whole thing. Moreover, the scenario itself does seem to call for some kind of a showdown with the Assads, who seem to be the ultimate losers here. Such a showdown, even if limited, is not going to be a rosy affair.Let’s briefly explore some of the potential problems that might still lie ahead.First, just like Ali Khamenei said in his recent meeting with Bashar, the alliance between Syria and Iran is well-nigh three decades old and will prove enduring. As such, the two sides might be staling for time while quietly writing an alternate scenario more suitable to their needs, interests and desires. So, we should just wait and see how things might progress over the next few weeks.Even should Hezbollah and the March 14 Movement come to an understanding that ends up increasing Shia representation in the government and approving the establishment of the Hariri Tribunal, the adventurous Assads might still have enough wiggling room here to survive. For instance, considering the possibility that the Tribunal might fail to name people like Assef and Maher, the Assads might have the option to stage a failed coup against their villainous selves in which all the chief suspects, other than themselves, end up getting killed (seeing that having these people commit suicide would prove quite the hard sell at this stage).The Assads will find themselves in a bit of a pickle, however, should the Tribunal end up casting any doubts or aspersions on any one of them. Rather than risking this, the Assads might be willing to risk it all in Lebanon before the Tribunal is approved by continuing to try to inflame the situation, the will and wishes of the Iranians and even Hezbollah notwithstanding. After all, they still have other willing allies and clients in Lebanon, ones which they seem able to mobilize at will (the Syrian Social National Party, radical Palestinian groups, small Islamist movements and cells, notto mention some Shia groups as well, perhaps even factions within Hezbollah). If this should happen, the Saudi-Iranian deal could falter, that is, unless it get reworked somehow in order to allow for some jointly-sanctioned action to take place against the Assads – a pretty complicated feat to accomplish even for the likes of Bandar. But it could happen. In all cases, don’t expect the Assads to go down without a fight, and the "rosy" scenario with which we are presented is not likely to unfold as smoothly as some might think or wish.A final problem is the fact that the Israelis, as one can detect from Jackson Diehl’s op-ed in the Washington Post,* may not be happy with the Mecca Accord and might attempt to rally US support to their position, which would, as u[...]
A friend told me not too long ago that some people tend to find my position on the Assads to be somewhat unreasonable. After all, some of their stands and policies, especially with regard to the peace process and the Arab-Israeli Conflict seem to reflect how the majority of people in Syria and elsewhere in the region and the world feel and think. So why we not support them on these matters? Wouldn't this be the patriotic thing to do, regardless of how we feel about their internal policies?
Not from my perspective. If democracy and development are the things that we care most about, then we simply cannot let the fact that the Assads are robbing the country blind, squandering its scarce resources, mismanaging its affairs and depriving its youths of any real chance at making a decent living and of hope in a better future slip out of our mind, no matter how momentarily. Otherwise, we will continue to fall into that all too familiar trap wherein the national cause is given primacy over all other consideration.
For long we have been told that the national cause comes first, I say democracy and development come first. No, I believe that democracy and development are the real national cause.
So, it does not matter in the least to me if the Assads tend to say or adopt the right rhetoric sometimes, so long as they hold on to power through sham elections, laws and constitutions and the sheer might of their military, there is nothing right or legitimate about them or about anything they do or represent. For all practical purposes we have to consider them as evil, even at the risk of sounding too corny or unreasonable sometimes. That’s the way it should be. People who hold on to power in an absolutist manner do not merit our understanding, our nuanced perspectives and our reasonableness, only our contempt and enmity.
The national interest does not benefit in the least from postponing the struggle for our freedom from oppression, for any reason whatsoever. Freedom comes first.
This emphatic stand of mine, however, should not be misconstrued as signifying some kind of appeal to violence or a willingness to resort to it. No. The Assads are not going to drag me to their depraved level. My personal approach will remain nonviolent in nature, albeit somewhat revolutionary.
Speaking of revolutions, the latest edition of BitterLemons-International has a special on the Arab Blogosphere that features an article by yours heretically, two wonderful fellow bloggers from Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and a regional correspondent that I absolutely respect and admire.
2007-02-07T01:04:58.815-05:00In the second part to the interview with Assads (video, text) Diane Sawyer managed to redeem herself slightly at least by raising the issues of the Hariri investigation and human rights. But hers was still a light approach that allowed our very own spineless version of Mr. Bean, with all the awkwardness and none of the charm, to escape unchallenged with such ludicrous assertion as “We don't have such political prisoners” and “So it's going to be democracy, but according to our standards.” Yeah. But, I wonder what sort of standards would a man whose entire family is mired in blood, oppression and corruption have? Any ideas anyone? I guess they are the kind of standards that allow for a dimwitted eye-doctor-in-waiting to be brought in to replace his late artifacts-smuggling brothels-frequenting brother as the heir apparant (or more likely in this case the heir absolument) of the Presidential throne. Nothing to challenge here, ipparently. On the other hand, with regard to one of those other unchallenged yet equally ludicrous assertions, namely that Syria is “the main player” in stabilizing Iraq, well, if Syria is indeed such a player in Iraq, and if the Top Lion of Syria indeed fears the domino effect of “the chaos” and “the instability,” as he put it, why aren’t the Assads already doing something about stabilizing the situation in Iraq? Why are they waiting to be approached by the US for talks over Iraq? Are they really afraid of “the chaos” or are they afraid of the American troops? Or they simply unable to do anything about the situation in Iraq, but would like very much for the US to believe that they could, so they could carve a deal for themselves? Tony Badran elaborates this point further in his recent post.On a different, though definitely related note, Seth Wikas of the Washington Institute, points out in his recent article in the Daily Star, to an often forgotten reality with regard to the Golan: the ambivalent feelings of its indigenous Syrian Druze population with regard to the whole issue of the necessity of return to Syrian sovereignty one hapless day. Indeed, the corruption and authoritarianism of the Assads have created the sort of state that no one in his right mind would like to go back to, which is why I am a fool, and which is why the Assads must go. Before, that is, our best and brightest end p living in Purdue, Indiana, as Mrs. Sawyer so eloquently put it, or, more likely, end up being buried in desperate attempts at trying to eke out some meager yet dignified subsistence in increasingly undignified and undignifying conditions.And with regard to the Golan, let me point out to some other neglected facts and soon-to-be facts, namely: that much of the land on the Syrian side of the Golan has either already been purchased, at the cheapest possible prices of course, by the sons of bitches of the Syrian regime, who also happen to be the sons of high-ranking government officials, with other choice real estate morsels and tidbits being declared public land, meaning that the state will eventually sell them to the selfsame SOBs and their lackeys when the right time comes. The Syrians of the Golan have the prospect of poverty and fleecing to look forward to when peace finally prevails, that is, if the Assads are the ones to be rewarded with it.Biladi, biladi, biladi, laki hubbi wa fou'adi. Oh my country, you have my love and my heart.And I will have nothing to show for it. Ever.PS. This whole episode has given iPod a bad name, I think, if I were an iPod executive I’d sue. iPersonally, I am switching to Zune, and will stick to classical music, classic rock and New Age, with all due respect to Faith Hill and Shania Twain. Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World! Yeah. [...]
2007-02-05T21:48:54.772-05:00Imagine this: you are a well-known TV correspondent and you now have a rare occasion to interview one of the main troublemakers in one of the world’s most turbulent and troubled regions, so, what would you do? What would you ask him about?Well, I don’t know about you, but Diane Sawyer of ABC News (Video, Text) thought it will be a rather wonderful and congenial idea to give this man a platform from which to attack her country’s democratically elected administration, while ignoring the man’s and his regime’s record in oppressing his own population, dabbling in neighboring countries, and exporting chaos and terror, that is, in being one of the region’s the main domino players for decades.So, there were no questions about the Hariri Investigation, or the situation in Lebanon, or connection to Iran, the sham referendum that brought him to power, the shame referendum that is designed to keep him in power, and about the fact that many insurgency leaders in Iraq are roaming around free in Damascus and talking to foreign journalists and operating their insurgency TV from Syria, not to mention the continuing crackdown against democracy and human rights advocated in the country. After all who cares about these issues, right? Because what inquiring minds really want to know is what’s on this fucking murderous moron’s iPod. For if it is by any chance Shania Twain and Faith Hill, well then, gee whiz, the man must really be good and wholesome like the milk from grandma’s farm ya all. And we can just to talk to him. After all, he is “the son of the legendary Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad, who negotiated with five American presidents” you know, which is offered as a sign of prestige somehow, rather than a mark of eternal shame.But then, we Syrians, although we look more modern and secular than most other Arabs (except the Lebanese and Tunisians), are still products of the East to Diane Sawyer, it seems, and, as such, we do somehow expect our leaders to lord over us for a long time, and we just looove it when we they do. The fact that we have a Republican system rather than a monarchical one is not seen as an indication of our desire for a responsible government and a peaceful and regular transition of power. Naah, it’s just an accident of history, a little curiosity, like having Faith Hill on you ipod, or riding a bus in London when you are the son of a Middle Eastern dic-fucking-tator. iPleaaaase.If the interview was intentionally designed to make this “Basher” of our democratic aspirations look good it would not have done a better job. This was not simply a nice performance by our national thug, who had obviously rehearsed every response this time around and paid more deference to why his hired media goons had told him, this was a seriously poor, unprofessional and moronic performance by the ABC team who set this up, or should we just put sole blame on ABC’s own Dame Edna for this?And so our village idiot ended up sounding like a statesman, did he? Well, how else should a man sound when he is allowed to make such claims as “We are the main player,” in reference to helping stabilize the situation in Iraq without being challenged on it, and “What good is democracy if you are dead?” without actually being reminded that he had done his best from the very beginning to ensure that death rather than democracy should prevail in Iraq, and he is on the fucking public record on this.Sure his regime’s survival was at stake. But, you know what?, he is a fucking maniacal dictator, his fears in this regard, albeit natural, are not legitimate. People often confuse the natural and legitimate in this case. The Assads’ reactions are often natural, but always illegitimate. The way they took over and (mis)managed the affairs of the state should stigmatize them for life. And the least that representat[...]
2007-01-30T00:53:58.530-05:00I have been repeatedly asked before as to my policy recommendations to the current administrations will be. This statement of mine, which I recently sent for inclusion in the European Parliament file on the Association Agreement with Syria, might be helpful in this regard. My approach might be described as a call for public and conditional engagement that puts everything on the table, including the sensitive issue of political reforms, serious political reforms, ones that begin with general amnesty for all political prisoners and exiles and culminate in free and internationally-monitored parliamentary and presidential elections within an agreed timeframe, no longer than 2 years.Will the Assads accept such conditions? Not when they think there is room to maneuver. The conflict between the European and American stands vis-à-vis Syria, and between different political current within the various governments concerned, as the divide between the neo-cons and realists, not to mention Republicans and Democrats, in the US amply illustrates, is allowing the Assads much room to maneuver. Coupled with their reinvigorated alliance with Iran, their recent vicarious sense of triumph in the aftermath of Israel’s August Folly in Lebanon, and their continued dabbling in the Palestinian Territories, they are even emboldened now and will not likely settle for anything less than that illusive “perfect deal” that can somehow allow for the indefinite prolongation of the rein of a handful of losers over the affairs of 20 million dehumanized creatures mired in manifest misery. If logic does not militate against this, if the people involved themselves do not rebel, I will. I have nothing better to do with my time, I guess.Call me a Saint Jude, if you like, or a pretentious asshole even, it does not matter. I don’t pretend to be driven by principle alone, or by principle at all, I just don’t know what else to do. If I knew how I can conduct myself differently and save myself and my family from the troubles that my course of action will bring upon us all, I probably would have taken it. But I don’t. So, there but for the Grace of Whoever, go I…As for the Assads, this post notwithstanding, it does not matter in the least what the US and the EU will or will not do with them, because their fate, in the final analysis, rests with their people (Sunnis and Alawites alike), and, surface appearances notwithstanding, they are not happy, they are not happy at all. ____________I have titled my brief intervention in this manner because, despite the fact that I am currently a member of the Syrian opposition, and of the National Salvation Front to be more specific, I have always been a strong advocate of signing the Syrian-European Association Agreement. In fact, considering my 3-year affiliation as a consultant with the Syrian-European Business Center (2001-2004), an initiative sponsored by the MEDA II Program, I have personally been involved in translating and preparing many of the reports and studies intimately related to the Association talks, and I have, therefore, managed to acquire a virtual insider knowledge of the process, the way it was conducted by the Syrian side, and the various pitfalls it encountered before it was finally frozen for lack of serious progress.More so, I have been invited on a number of occasions to speak, both publicly and privately, to various European delegations visiting the country, or to take part in quiet briefings at a variety of European embassies and ministries, for the sole purpose of discussing the viability of the Association Agreement and its potential contributions to improving the human rights conditions and encouraging political and economic reforms in the country. Throughout all these meetings and briefings, my main argument has been[...]
2007-01-28T03:39:11.540-05:00Ammar Abdulhamid of the Tharwa Foundation
2007-01-23T18:52:12.826-05:00The reasons why I left the US in 1994 and went back to Syria after a 9-year long absence are many, but one of the contributing factors was the fear of losing one or both of my parents while I was abroad. This fear stemmed from two facts: I lost my paternal grandmother who doubled as my nanny really when I was studying in the Moscow in 1984, and all the phone calls that I made in 93-94 to my parents featured announcements of someone close dying: my step grandfather, my younger uncle (a gregarious life-embracing fellow – by far my favorite uncle), and two close family friends, one of whom, the late Syrian actor Yusuf Hanna, was like a second father to me. Not wanting to face another such loss while abroad, I chose to get back to Syria and stay there so I can deal with whatever loss as it happens and be there for those who need me, in both body and spirit, and so that I can take in the loss as well. After all, the passing of my grandma was something that haunted me for many years, my mind kept on treating her as though she was still alive and waiting for me back in her old-style Damascene house hugging Mount Qasayoun.But then, when my father passed away in 2004, and though I was there for him throughout all his final night on earth, it didn’t feel like I was really there at all, not for him anyway. The vacant look in his eyes should have told me that he was dying, and should have compelled me to stay next to him and chat with him about anything and everything, but it did not. I just checked on him every now and then, throughout that night, taking a small nap in between, and allowing myself to be fooled by the look of recognition in his eyes and the smile that got painted on his face each time I entered his room. He was dying, and I did not want to see it. To top it off, next day noon, I left his side and went to the office, leaving him to the loving care of my mother and Khawla. A couple of hours later I received a call from Khawla telling me that they need me back, I didn’t ask why. I didn’t think why. But I soon learned that my father had passed away. So, I wasn’t really there after all, was I?Still, when I think of my father these days, and it’s only natural that I should think of him at this point in time, after all January 17 marks the anniversary of his passing (not to mention my anniversary with Khawla), I have no delusions that he is still alive – I know he is gone, I can feel the void. Is that what it means to be there, or almost there?Perhaps indeed this is the best that can be achieved in the face of such loss. Which, somehow, means that I am now back to square one, having left Syria once again, no matter how involuntary.This morning, there was another phone call and a brief announcement. A maternal aunt has passed away. Ghada Wassef, 55, a small time actress, diabetic, overweight, gregarious, life-embracing, people’s person, helpful, kind, definitely my favorite aunt, passed away in her sleep due to kidney failure. She had already been admitted to a hospital on the previous day for a sudden increase in blood sugar, a routine occurrence in her case, just as death is part of life’s daily routine, I guess.And I wasn’t there for her, or for that increasingly lonely mother I left behind. This is another facet of exile with which I have to deal. I can never be there to anyone anymore. Not that being there was any help, to others that is.I am one of thousands in this situation, I know, yet this knowledge does not matter in the least. My choices in life will continue to bedevil and haunt me, and everyone around me for the rest of my life, and perhaps beyond - an enduring legacy of pain and abandonment. When will they ever make a difference, I wonder, o[...]
2007-01-09T02:24:47.550-05:00For long time, people who read this blog tended to classify some of my views as reflections of some personal isolated stands, unique only to certain members of the opposition, especially outside of Syria. This, however, is not simply inaccurate, it is downright false.In reality, Syrian opposition groups, working inside and outside the country, have long adopted certain united stands on many of the issues involved in the struggle for change in Syria. Indeed, ever since the appearance of the Damascus Declaration on the scene and the formation of the National Salvation Front, the political discourse of Syria’s better organized oppositional coalitions has indeed been harmonized. Whether this was done by a careful act of coordination, by an independent assessment of certain realities on the ground, or by a combination of both is something worth wondering about since it might help US officials adopt a better strategy for dealing with Syria in the near future.Indeed, and by way of connecting certain long-neglected dots, let’s remind here of a certain forgotten sequence of events.First came the Damascus Declaration, a document authored and adopted by a variety of internal opposition groups and figure, calling for regime change in order to save the country from the adventurist policies of the Assad regime. Then came the formation of the National Salvation Front which subscribed to the Declaration. Third came a conference in Washington D.C. organized by the Syrian National Council, a US-based opposition group. The conference was unique in that it managed to bring several well-known signatories of the Damascus Declaration to take part in it the go back to Syria and communicate with the rest of the signatories. Other notable figures from the Damascus Declaration joined the conference by phone, including Riad Seif (mere days after his release from prison), Walid al-Bunni and Suhair al-Atassy. The fourth step happened a month later when the Syrian National Council threw its lot with former Syrian VP Abdul Halim Khaddam and Muslim Brotherhood leader, Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni, and formed the National Salvation Front.Now, all that is left to connect all these dots in order to form a harmonious sensible whole is to bring to attention the fact that the various points that have been elaborated by me in my recent two articles have just been elaborated again in a new statement (Arabic) recently released by the Damascus Declaration. The statement condemns the regime’s adventurist policies that made the country get stuck in the bottleneck with no way out in sight, they warn against the regime’s pro-Iran policies, and warn against the regime’s false interest in peace with Israel etc.So, what does this mean? Simple: the views often elaborated here do not reflect the personal views of some adventurist, as some might paint me, but the consensus of some of Syria’s most respected opposition figures and most organized opposition coalitions both inside and outside the country. As such, and as US policymakers continue to wrangle over the best policy course that needs to be adopted vis-à-vis Syria, the views often elaborated here do warrant serious consideration. [...]
2007-01-02T01:55:10.986-05:00The year of 2006 has been quite a strange one indeed. But then any year that starts with the defection of a Khaddam, the long time VP of an embattled regime, and ends with the execution of a Saddam, the father of all VIPs of a fallen one, is just bound to be strange I guess.But no, there is a quality here that goes beyond the strange and the bizarre and right down into the tragicomic, if not even the farcical.For this year witnessed the transformation, nay, the transmogrification, of our long established national charlatans and villains, both alive and recently hanged, into long-awaited national saviors and saintly heroes, sometimes reluctantly but often wholeheartedly and popularly endorsed. And we all fell into the trap of this endorsement by aligning with this or that set of equally questionable figures on our increasingly impoverished and farcical political scene, often with eyes wide shut, or blindfolded more likely with fear, ignorance, wishful thinking and too many vested interests, real and/or imagined, material and/or psychological, in the potential outcome, and sometimes with eyes wide open, pried open in fact, perhaps for the very aforesaid motives. In this regard, I lay no claim to innocence and seek no refuge in any alleged good intentions on my part. Such defensive stratagems are nonsensical, inconsequential and often even dishonest. After all, in popular imagination and perception, - and where else is politics played out? - we are all tainted now, the idealists and well-intentioned more so than any others. Attempts at self-defense and justification are but exercises in futility at this stage.Therefore, the only assertion I will make in this regard is that I have long known that the odds have always been more in favor of such disastrous development than any other. The quality of the decision-makers involved on all sides was and continues to be just too mediocre for one to expect a different outcome, and popular awareness and understanding of the issues involved continues to be flawed and hostage to the whims and influences of a myriad unscrupulous characters, and to the undying lure of certain popular myths, beliefs and misconceptions. Meanwhile, the challenges that we face, political, social, economic and developmental, remain much too enormous than most people are willing to acknowledge. As such the proposed solutions, no matter how realistic, moderate, reasonable and pragmatic they appear to be, have always tended to fall much too short of what is required to make even the smallest adjustment in the disastrous course that lies ahead.To say that the fate of so many hundreds of millions of people is at stake here does not appear as a romantic exaggeration to me, but a downplayed reality that is coming back to haunt us all with every passing day.This is probably why I ended up venturing into this “gamble”, because it is really not a gamble at all as far as I am concerned. From where I stand, the way our various plans and schemes are unfolding seems to reflect a certain inevitability (albeit in objective socio-historical rather than metaphysical terms) than a gamble, calculated or not. In other words, I can see no way out of or around the looming and potentially disastrous confrontation, necessitated by the global clash of values, expectations (mostly consumerist in nature) and deeply held beliefs (mostly medievalist in basic ethos and outlook). In fact, everything that we do at this stage seems destined to help chart our path right into the thick of it, perhaps not as fast as some of us dread, [...]
2006-12-27T23:53:02.103-05:00Ammar Abdulhamid Fri. Dec 29, 2006Forward ForumAccording to an article in Time magazine this month, I am the central figure in some cockamamie plot to overthrow the Syrian government. The plan, apparently, is to undermine Bashar al-Assad’s regime through the ballot box, starting with the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2007.But as every Syrian knows, these elections tend to be quite staged and inconsequential. Perhaps the American officials who concocted the classified plan for regime change believed they could make it appear more credible by assigning a primary role to a dissident like myself. No one, however, could exude the kind of aura needed to cover the naiveté of the proposed scheme.If nothing else, this half-baked plot exposes how much the United States is struggling to develop a coherent policy toward Syria. Washington is clearly unable to grasp the reality on the ground, both in Syria and across the Middle East — and nowhere is this disconnect more visible than in the naive insistence, by the Iraq Study Group and others, on linking progress in Iraq to the revival of Syrian-Israeli peace talks.If Israel returns the Golan Heights to Syria, the advocates of this line argue, the Assad regime will become more agreeable to helping the United States in Iraq and to reining in Hezbollah and Hamas. But little consideration is given, at least officially, to the fact that Assad may not be in a position to help achieve any of these things once the United Nations’ investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri is completed.This open secret has led many to believe — with ample justification — that despite the Iraq Study Group’s emphasis on obliging Damascus to abide by all relevant U.N. resolutions, the Assad regime will ultimately be rewarded with a free pass on the Hariri assassination. Indeed, there is an implicit acknowledgement among all advocates of talks with Assad that the regime’s real interest lies more in killing the Hariri investigation than in retrieving the Golan. But since this matter cannot be acknowledged publicly by either Damascus or Washington, returning the Golan is made out to be a key to solving the region’s problems.Why, some might ask, should Israel care about all this, if in the end it gets something out of the deal — such as the containment of Hezbollah and Hamas?For one, it is not really clear that Damascus actually can deliver in this regard, seeing that the real financial backer here is Iran. So, unless the Assad regime suddenly becomes willing to turn against Iran, it is unlikely to cause a serious break in the flow of arms and funds to Lebanon and Gaza.No matter how desirable this turnaround might seem in the eyes of American and Israeli policy-makers, it remains an unlikely course of action for Assad. The alliance between the two regimes dates back to the early days of the Iranian revolution, and the security and economic dimensions of the relationship have been developed for years.Iran invests hundreds of millions of dollars in Syria, and annual bilateral trade tops a billion dollars. More importantly, Iranians have been able to heavily infiltrate the Syrian security apparatuses, to the point where Tehran has the ability to manipulate existing differences among different members of the Assad family. Today, Iran is both a security threat and a lucrative business partner to the Syrian regime — and both sides are well aware of it.The fact that Iran has so much influence on the Assad reg[...]
2006-12-25T22:35:41.703-05:00Ammar Abdulhamid (Spanish, Russian, French, German, Czech, Chinese, Arabic)Despite frequent claims to the contrary, the fundamental problem in the Middle East is not intervention by the West. On the contrary, the real problem is that, for all their dabbling, the Western powers seem capable of neither war nor dialogue. This leaves everyone in the region at the mercy of the Middle East’s oppressive regimes and proliferating terrorists.Advocates of the Iraq war lacked an understanding of the complexities on the ground to wage an effective war of liberation and democratization. As a result, their policies merely ended up eliminating Iran’s two major regional rivals: the Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s regime. This presented Iran with a golden opportunity to project itself as a regional hegemon, and Iran’s leaders are unlikely to let this opportunity slip away.Advocates of dialogue with the Iranians and their Syrian allies, like former United States Secretary of State James Baker, labor under the delusion that they can actually reach an understanding that can enable a graceful US exit from Iraq and help stabilize that wounded country. The delusion is based on two false assumptions: that the Iranians and the Syrians can succeed in Iraq where the US has failed, and that the international community can afford to pay the price of ensuring their cooperation.True, Syria and Iran are playing a major role in supporting Iraqi insurgents, and Syria is still encouraging the trafficking of jihadists and weapons across its borders with Iraq. But the idea that these activities can be halted at will is naïve.For one thing, the interests of the Shia communities in Iraq and Iran are not the same. Iraqi Shia have never accepted Iranian dictates, and many took part in Saddam’s war against Iran in the 1980’s. After all, the Iraqi Shia are Arabs, and if they are now willing to coordinate their activities with their Persian counterparts, their main goal will always be to secure an independent course as soon as possible, even while they carry on with their internecine disputes within Iraq. Iran is in no better position than the US to convince them to resolve their differences.President Basher al-Assad of Syria faces a similar dilemma. Although he has opened Syria’s border to jihadists and has allowed Saddam’s supporters to operate freely there, that choice may not be entirely his. Syria’s aid to Saddam in maneuvering around the United Nations’ oil-for food program brought Iraqi money to inhabitants of the border region, who have always been closer in customs, dialect, and outlook to their Iraqi neighbors than to their fellow Syrians. In the absence of government investment, local inhabitants’ loyalty went to Iraqi Baathists who helped improve their lot. Indeed, even local security apparatuses have been unwilling to comply with dictates from Assad and his clique to seal the borders.In these cirumstances, neither Syria nor Iran seems capable of delivering anything but mayhem in Iraq. What, then, would the proposed dialogue between the US and these states achieve other than continue to empower their corrupt yet ambitious regimes?The story gets more complicated when one considers the UN inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Assad wants nothing more than to see this affair forgotten – and the proponents of dialogue think that they can give him what he wants in the hope of breaking Syria’s alliance with Iran.But that is m[...]
2006-12-23T01:10:41.210-05:00So here I was crouching head-down on my belly in the Doctor’s chair, my ass hoisted in the air in a very un-reassuring position for a shy reclusive and heretical buttocks, when it suddenly hit me, no, not the intrusive instruments of the doctors perianal conspiracy, but the sudden realization that the problems with my ass, if memory served me correctly, seem to have come about around the same time as my problems with my Assads, which, indeed, made perfect sense to me, seeing that all involved are indeed full of shit.But then my realization went deeper than that when I remembered that I can actually date my first serious bout of hemorrhoidal pain and bleeding back to the early days of the US-led invasion of Iraq. I, then, had a series of “dry runs” coinciding nicely with my first stint at Brookings in mid 2004. But, and beginning in mid January 20005, things went down hill and colon upon my return to Damascus, with the onset of that long period of incessant interrogations by Syria’s various security apparatuses, and my incessant defiance thereof. Consequently, a surgery became necessary in April - the bleeding stopped - a death-threat inevitable in June -the throbbing pain came back - and exile a relief in September - the bleeding of anus and soul returned, and never looked back. My bleeding is but a reflection of the turbulence around and within me, my anus a barometer. This world is going indeed to shit, and, if some had their way, so will my life.The latest ramification of the Time’s article is the embellishment in an Arabic site run by another troubled Syrian soul in exile, a journalist and a graduate of the Syrian prison system who have developed his own unique way of coping with his own growing disillusionment with the Syrian regime and his own messianic predilections, Nizat Nayouf. His way allows him to quote “widely knowledgeable sources” in Syria, while maintaining a semblance of objectivity and stating that their claims "are rather difficult to verify." indeed. The “widely knowledgeable sources” in Syria claim that I am a triple agent of sorts playing all sides, including the US Administration, the regime and the NSF, and that I have secretly recorded NSF meetings, and sent the recordings to the Presidential Palace in my Damascus, through my mother, the well-known actress Muna Wasssef who, naturally, is very "close to the Palace."The source also identifies the Tharwa Project as the vehicle of the US conspiracy, albeit it admits that our funding initially came from a Dutch organization connected, according to "widely knowledgeable sources" in the Netherlands this time around, to the Protestant-Jewish lobby.In fact, however, I never attended any of the NSF meetings, because, here I am the center of a CIA covert plot to bring down the Syrian regime and no one has seen fit so far to speed up the approval of my asylum application and give me a goddamn passport. I took part in establishing the NSF virtually, I have never yet met Khaddam or Bayanouni, and other than the US-based members of the NSF, I only met those who came here for occasional visits. Now, I should think that that would make it pretty hard for me to get any recordings of NSF meetings, unless, of course, I had accomplices. This is what the new version of the report will likely claim in some future date. As for my Dutch donors, well, actually, they happen to be a branch of an international Catholic organization, namely the well-known Pax Christi,[...]
2006-12-20T23:58:26.156-05:00A recent article in the Time paints me as the central figure of some cockamamie covert plot to overthrow the Syrian regime. But, and while I'd really like to see our illustrious regime overthrown and reconciled to the dustbin of history (to borrow a term that is so dear to the hearts of regime spokesmen), news of my involvement in such “sinister” plot come as news to me as well. I was never aware of that fact that I was that creative. I think I should take up writing again, soon.Meanwhile, I am, at this stage, a member of the board of the Tharwa Foundation USA, which was recently incorporated in Washington to conduct human rights and democracy activities along lines similar to our Tharwa Project in Syria with its focus on diversity issues. Tharwa Foundation USA will be the recipient of funds from a variety of donor organizations in the US, but nothing that directly comes from the US government (where our donors get their money, however, is their problem). Moreover, the Tharwa Foundation will not be carrying out any partisan activities, such as supporting any particular political candidate, party, or movement inside or outside Syria, or anywhere in the region (we have representatives in Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, Morocco and the Gulf).Besides, parliamentary elections in Syria are too farcical and tightly controlled to become the center of any meaningful opposition work or action. For them to be put at the center of a plot to overthrow the Syrian regime is ludicrous. If there is someone who thinks along these lines in the administration, then heaven help us.My affiliation with the National Salvation Front has nothing to do with Tharwa, especially the branch in Syria, where the Tharwa team has always been critical of this recent aspect of my activism, albeit they accept my freedom to make my choices in these matters just as I accept theirs.Indeed, Tharwa came to light in Syria in early 2003, following 2 years of preparation. The NSF, on the other hand, was established in Europe in March 2006. Tharwa emerged as a regional civic project that support dissident views, and is often run by dissidents. Still, it has no partisan affiliation with any existing political group inside or outside the country, and does not represent itself as a political operation anywhere. In fact, its members come from a variety of political backgrounds, not to mention ethnic and religious affiliations.The Time story, therefore, is definitely not well-researched and tends to read too much into too little and stitches together disconnected pieces of a nonexistent puzzle. The current administration has not yet formed a coherent policy vis-à-vis Syria, albeit they are opening up more and more to the Syrian opposition, the NSF in particular. But that only means that we have been talking more often, nothing concrete has so far come out of the talks except for a general agreement that the NSF is an important and credible opposition movement whose views and basic expectations warrant to be factored in whatever policy that the Administration ends up adopting with regard to Syria. NSF members in Europe are conducting similar activities there as well with their local governments. Indeed, the NSF recently opened an office in London.Still, I don't really mind in principle being the central figure of a rumored covert operation, provided it is substantive and real. This one is just too bloody farcical, and I would like to believe that I a[...]
Meanwhile, those who think that they can talk some sense into the Assads should learn from the experience of Senator Bill Nelson, who was vilified in official Syrian press for claiming after the end of his visit to Syria that he had had a sharp exchange of views over Lebanon with the Syrian President, an assertion that has nothing to do with the rules of "politics, diplomacy and morality," according to the Syrian daily, Tishreen, that went on to list Nelson among those "two-faced" US officials who pay visits to Syria for purposes related to partisan politics in the US. Well, perhaps they got that last point right. Baathists are not all and always as dumb as we think. So, unless one is willing to grovel at the feet of the mighty Assads of the Middle Eastern jungle, perhaps there is no point in talking to them at all.
Indeed, the Assads will overplay their hand. We can always count on them doing just that when things seem to be going their way, even with Iranian coaching. It's a habit. It's well-nigh genetic.