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On bloggers and the opposition

December 28th, 2011 · Politics

Two pieces of interesting reading today. The first from the unmissable Qifa Nabki, who notes that the blogosphere’s support for Bashar has made a remarkable u-turn.

From this:

For the first decade of Assad’s presidency, most Syrian blogs I read were fairly supportive of the regime

To this:

Several bloggers have defected from the regime’s side in disgust, and a number of them have written compelling mea culpas

Health warning, Elias does mention me. Read the rest of Syria’s Defecting Bloggers at the New York Times Latitude blog.

And the second article is truly essential reading. It’s by a Syrian called Yazan (not that Yazan) who argues that although support for the regime is crumbling, that doesn’t mean we should jump on the Syrian National Council bandwagon. It’s called What Syria Deserves, and it’s at KabobFest.

I, and members of my family, had high, high hopes for Burhan Ghalioun. Yet, his statements and actions over the last few months have utterly burnt him.

It is neither for him nor the SNC to decide what political alliances Syria makes. It is for the Syrian public to make that decision. His, and the SNC’s position, on negotiating for the liberation of the Golan, for example, are no different for the Asad regime’s position vis-a-vis the Zionist State.

When activists like Maysaloon and Ammar Abdulhamid and ‘opposition’ figures in the SNC speak about the desperate need ‘to make deals with the devil’ in order to topple the regime, it is sheer senselessness. They are damning the soul of the nation, the intifada, by repeating the cycle of foreign dependency and will ensure a façade of liberty.

Moreover, the groveling and praises of gratitude towards Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries for their ‘support’ of the intifada are vomit-inducing. These are countries that have worked to crush the courageous Bahrain protesters, have ignored the sentiments of the awe-inspiring Yemeni protesters, and have horrible track records in regards to how they treat their own population, among numerous other faults. If this is a true uprising about liberty and dignity, we cannot accept to deal with those that flaunt this and have worked as counter-revolutionary forces in this region during this volatile time of ours. They are not our allies.

When organizations like SNC and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights grossly exaggerate the deaths that are happening or fabricate certain incidents, which they have done, in order to garner more sympathy, it is no different from what the regime has done in its existence.

When human rights-activist organizations, like the Human Rights Watch and Avaaz, and media agencies, like Al Jazeera and the Guardian, regurgitate these distortions without scrutiny (from the Gay Girl in Damascus scandal to the over estimation of deserters), it empowers the regime and its supporters. Worse, it ignores the real victims, the thousands imprisoned, tortured, or dead, who are nameless, and do not ever become convenient, easy-to-sell, symbols.

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Syria car bomb update

December 23rd, 2011 · Uncategorized

An arrest has already been made. Not sure how that fits in with the suicide bomb narrative.

And from what I can see on Syrian state TV, it looks like one of the cars that exploded has already been towed away. Destroying crucial evidence. As Karl Sharro points out, this has echoes of the aftermath of the Hariri bombing in Beirut in 2005, when evidence was swept up almost immediately.

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Two car bombs explode in Damascus

December 23rd, 2011 · BREAKING NEWS

UPDATE: At least 30 dead, 55 dead (via Al Manar)

Damascus has been hit by twin car bombs this morning. The first suicide bombs since the uprising began.

The explosions happened outside a security building early this morning. An unknown number have been killed – Syrian state TV is showing gruesome pictures of the bodies that have been ripped apart. The government says military personnel and civilians were killed, and is blaming Al Qaeda.

The opposition Free Syrian Army has denied responsibility, but has targeted military installations in the capital in recent weeks. In past attacks, however, they have been quick to claim responsibility.

What is unusual in this case is that the government is blaming Al Qaeda, rather than unknown ‘terrorists’ and ‘armed gangs’ (code for unarmed civilian demonstrators).

As usual, expect regime apologists to blame the opposition, because they must be blamed for every death. And expect hysterical twitter activists to blame the government and their conspiracy.

The bombings come just hours after the Arab League’s monitors arrive in Damascus, and a day after a series of car bombs killed dozens in Baghdad.

Health warning: these pictures are from Syrian state TV.

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Syria’s electronic war

December 21st, 2011 · Politics

The Syrian uprising, more than any of this year’s Arab revolutions, is being fought online as well as on the ground. Supporters of both the revolution and the regime are using increasingly vicious methods to embarrass and threaten their opponents online.

By me, for the Near East Quarterly. Read the full piece here.

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Razan Ghazzawi free

December 18th, 2011 · BREAKING NEWS

Razan Ghazzawi has apparently been freed, exactly two weeks after she was detained at the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Now let’s hope the other tens of thousands of detainees, who have committed no crime, are released too.

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Bashar Al-Assad interview with US TV

December 8th, 2011 · Politics

In his first English-language TV interview since the uprising began, Bashar Al-Assad has been speaking to ABC’s Barbara Walters.

A lot of headline writers have focussed on his statement that he doesn’t ‘own the country,’ and that he wasn’t in command of the army. This is taken out of context – watch the video, he was simply correcting Walter’s question where she seemed to imply that the army was his private militia. Rightly or wrongly, he wanted to make clear that the army wasn’t a personal institution, but a state one.

Here’s my transcription of the most important parts:

“It’s important how the Syrian people look at you, not how you look at yourself,” he says. “So I don’t have to look at myself.”

Confronted with the death of Hamzeh Al-Khateb, Al-Assad says: “No, no, no, I met with his father and he says he wasn’t tortured.”

“Many people criticised me, did they kill all of them? Who killed who? Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not vice versa.”

When asked about the death of singer Ibrahim Qashoush: “I don’t think he’s famous, I don’t know about him.”

On the army’s brutality: “They are not my forces, they are military forces belonging to the government. I don’t own them [laughing], I’m president. I don’t own the country.”

“There was no command to kill or to be brutal.”

“We don’t kill our people, no government in the world kills its people unless it’s lead by a crazy person.”

On UN allegations of crimes against humanity: “I would say send us the documents and the concrete evidence that you have, and we’ll see if they are true or not. [The UN has sent us] nothing at all.”

“Who said the UN is a credible institution. [Having an ambassador there] is a game we play, it doesn’t mean we believe in it [laughing].”

On being a president for life: “It’s about public support, so when I feel that the public support has declined, I won’t be here [as president]. That’s conclusive.

Do you feel guilty? “[Laughs] I did my best to protect the people, so you can’t feel guilty when you do your best.”

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Free Razan Ghazzawi

December 5th, 2011 · Politics

She was sitting in her favourite spot in Damascus, a table under the tree in the cafe in the grounds of the National Museum of Damascus. That was the first time I met Razan. It was 12 October 2007, although we’d been emailing and commenting on each other’s blogs for a few months before that. Now she’s in prison.

I can’t claim to be a friend of Razan. In fact, I think she’ll be quite furious that I am posting about her. We fell out over politics at the start of the uprising, and we haven’t talked since. It was in the days when I still believed in the regime’s promises of reform, and still held out hope that Bashar could turn the situation around.

Razan never believed that. That first day we met, we walked through the streets of the Old City, talking quite loudly and openly about democracy, about repression, about the post-Assad era. She did the talking, I played the looking-scared role.

But unlike me, Razan is courageous. She has firm beliefs, and she doesn’t let friendship get in the way of them. She dedicated a year of her life to the aftermath of the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006 and another year to helping victims of the Nahr Al-Bared conflict and then threw herself into the campaign against the Gaza massacre in January 2009.

Razan was one of a handful of activists who dared to turn up at candlelit vigils outside the Tunisian and Egyptian embassies in Damascus in January. And even when the group was met with beatings, threats and detentions, she continued to attend.

She was anti-Bashar at a time when the rest of us believed in the promises. She is outspoken. But she still refuses to countenance a Nato attack while others beg for American jets to fly over Damascus.

Razan combines the fearsome intellect of an academic with the tireless passion of an activist. Now she’s another number. Another one of the thousands of prisoners of conscience – people detained because they believe in something different to those in power.

Free Razan Ghazzawi.

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Burhan Ghalioun “addresses the Syrian nation”

November 6th, 2011 · Politics

In a pseudo-presidential speech, the leader of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, has made an Eid speech. Translation below.

Speech of Burhan Ghalioun, President of the Syrian National Council – 5 November 2011
The Address of SNC Presidnet; Dr. Burhan Ghalioun to The Syrian Nation

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The great people of Syria,

I address you today on the eve of eid al-Adha, as our country reels from the violent actions of an unjust regime which has transformed our country over the decades into a kingdom where power is inherited, where rights are deprived and where dignity and freedom are beyond reach of its people.

We became accustomed to this predicament until we could tolerate it no longer. In your revolt for freedom, you sacrificed your most precious assets until every home in Syria has experienced the loss a father, the rape of a daughter and the arrest and disappearance of a young man or child. And as the pillars of tyranny shook, your courage, determination and capacity to sacrifice has captured the world’s admiration. You are not in this ordeal alone, your sacrifices have been noted by Syrians everywhere and your efforts have highlighted the trove of talents and creative abilities of all Syrians.

The great people of Syria,

From this day onward, Syria is home to freedom and dignity, free of all discrimination, injustice and exclusion. Syria is one nation for a united Syrian people with no reference to majorities and minorities, religion, sect or regional affiliation. It is a country where the principles of citizenship and equality reign and where people are judged on the basis of their capacities to give and sacrifice for the sake of their country. Syria’s new constitution will protect minorities and their rights, including the Kurds, who have suffered discrimination. Syria will have a new judicial, legislative and executive system which will be held accountable by the people. The power of government will be limited and the people will choose who governs them through the ballot box. Syrians will enjoy the rule of law, where everyone is equal before an independent judiciary, and all Syrians have equal rights to form organizations, political parties, associations and participation in decision-making.

The great people of Syria,

With each passing day, and with every drop of blood shed, we are one step closer to freedom. The days of tyranny are numbered and the demise of the current regime is inevitable. History has taught us that regimes based on corruption, oppression and slavery are bound to fail: all unjust rulers who detain its youth, steal the wealth of the country and kill its people inevitably come to an end.

The great people of Syria,

The Syrian National Council is fighting a political battle with you, and on your behalf, at home and abroad. It is your Council, your voice heard by the world to defend your cause. Its members are your comrades in the battle for freedom. We are honored by you all, and heartened by your support of the National Council. We promise not to waste any effort or time to overthrow the tyrannical regime. Will not negotiate on the blood of the victims and martyrs nor will we compromise on the pained groans of detainees. We will not be deceived. The National Council will not allow the regime to bide for time. We are aware of the responsibility and trust you have placed on us. But the challenges that we face are great. We are working towards building a solid council with strong foundations to be able to manage the affairs of the country during the transition. This mission cannot happen overnight and we have made rapid progress. We have submitted a formal request to the Secretariat of the League of Arab States and the United Nations to protect civilians in Syria and send international observers. The Council is exploring other options as well.

The great people of Syria,

On this holy day, we salute our soldiers who are refusing to carry out orders. They are risking their lives and those of their families to defend the people and protect them in their peaceful revolt. Syrians will not forget what these soldiers have done for them by showing their support and commitment to their real duty of protecting them. We call upon the rest of the Syrian army to follow example to protect the homeland and citizens.

The great people of Syria,

Syrians will not forget all those nations and organizations which have helped and supported them to gaining liberty. We will continue to mobilize local, regional and international support for our just cause. The regime is still intent on drawing the country into chaos and civil war, but we will resist by uniting until we are victorious.

The great people of Syria,

The future begins today. We are working towards building a new Syria where freedom replaces oppression, dignity wins over discrimination, love takes over hatred and progress triumphs. All of us together today have a duty to create such a Syria and restore it back to life.

May God have mercy on the fallen heroes. May the wounded and injured be healed and may the young detainees soon be released.

Long live free Syria and the great people of Syria and great Eid to all.

Translation by @sherbalkis

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Damascus with Love

October 20th, 2011 · Culture

I haven’t felt much like blogging lately. With Syrians killing Syrians it felt inappropriate to offer my purile analysis. I started this blog to cover Syrian news at a time when most westerners couldn’t even find the country on a map. Now everyone and his dog (especially his dog) is a Syria expert. 

I’ve spent much of the past month hidden in the darkness of the cinema (it’s London Film Festival time), far away away from an internet connection. I’m trying not to hear news of another massacre, of another family ripped apart, of another person claiming Syria is ‘slipping towards civil war’, or of another expert acting like the opposition’s version of SANA.

It felt wrong to talk about movies when all Syrians inside the country are talking about is death.

But Damascus with Love has got to be an exception.

Filmmaker Muhammed Abdulaziz’s family is in hiding, and tonight’s screening in London almost didn’t happen because of the difficulty of getting the movie to the UK.

His film is a humourous – dare I say soap-opera style – tale of a Syrian woman’s search for the love of her life. But what is special is that the lead character in Damascus with Love is a Syrian Jew.

It did feel at times that Abdulaziz was making a Damascus promotional video. Ironically, it could’ve been the Ministry of Tourism that made this film, if the government didn’t inexplicably hate this man so much. The slow panning shot of the city from Rukn Eddin, the visit to Bahsa, the walk down Medhat Pasha, the trip to Deir Mar Musa, namechecking the Umayyed Mosque and Naufara Cafe.

This film was made before the onset of the violence, and it feels awful to be watching scenes shot near Jisr Al-Shoughur. One of the funniest characters is a bride they meet on a road near the scene of one of the worst massacres of this revolution.

And one thing I learned is that Syrians are crazy. Actually insane! Well, according to this film. It made me laugh. And I haven’t laughed when thinking about Syria for a very long time. For that alone, tonight was worthwhile.

The peaceful, beautifully shot scenes of a country that is now in turmoil allowed me to bury my head in the sand. And I’ll keep doing that, thank you very much.

I’ll leave you with this, one of the most beautiful parts of the soundtrack to Damascus with Love. The Night…Fallen Down, by Rim Banna.

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Civil war talk in Syria

October 3rd, 2011 · Politics

There is a real danger that the more you talk these things up, the greater the likelihood of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Today, three stories with near-identical headlines. And that’s in addition to the NYT’s article on Saturday.

BBC: Is the Syria uprising heading towards civil war?

When some of their wives tried to cross the border, they were stopped by Syrian soldiers who insulted them, asking whether they were going to see their menfolk for sex.

Enraged, their husbands gathered a group of 15 men and that night attacked an army encampment near Hitt.

The gun battle lasted for four hours. Some bullets were fired over the border and hit the walls of Lebanese homes. …

One of the men refused to talk, saying only: “You are not giving us weapons, so what is the point of doing an interview?”

Having made his point he wandered off. …

Syrian officials say over 800 police and soldiers have been killed. That compares with over 2,700 civilians, estimated by the United Nations.

Gulf News: Signs of civil war in Syria

Prominent Syrian activist Michel Kilo warned of a full-scale war in the country, if the government continued to deploy armed forces to quell protests.

The crackdown on unarmed protesters over the past six months has encouraged many soldiers and officers to defect and the government’s irresponsible behaviour has been pushing the uprising to the point of fighting back with arms, Kilo told Gulf News in a phone interview.

Al Arabiya: Is Syria heading towards civil war?

The latest series of assassinations in Syria, including the recent murder of the son of the grand mufti, reveals a muddled and complex picture of the state of the uprising in the country. The killings could lead Syria spiraling down the path of a bloody civil war, with sectarian vendettas likely to characterize the next chapter of the revolution. If, however, it turns out that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is behind the targeted murders, these acts will likely backfire and unite religious sects against the regime.

The flashpoint city of Homs last week was the scene of several targeted assassinations. On Sept. 25, a surgeon at Homs’ general hospital, Hassan Eid, was shot dead as he got into his car. Aws Abdel Karim Khalil, a nuclear engineering specialist and charge d’affaires at al-Baath University, was gunned down as his wife drove him to work. Mohammad Ali Aqil, deputy dean of the architecture faculty, and Nael Dakhil, director of the military petrochemical school, were also killed last week, both the Syrian official news agency and activists reported.

A statement by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights suggested that “extremists” possibly among dissidents could be responsible for the murders. The group called on “everyone to denounce and stop extremists from committing such acts of violence.”

NYT: Key Syrian City Takes On the Tone of a Civil War

The semblance of a civil war has erupted in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, where armed protesters now call themselves revolutionaries, gun battles erupt as often as every few hours, security forces and opponents carry out assassinations, and rifles costing as much as $2,000 apiece flood the city from abroad, residents say.

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