Monday, June 20, 2011

Clarity & Confusion!

As Bashar is set to speak, protesters could not be any more indifferent. Unless he plans to offer his immediate resignation, nothing Bashar can say will alleviate the pent-up anger of the Syrian people, and his speech will more likely exacerbate it.

Sunday June 17, 2011

The Syrian army storms the border village surrounds of Bdama in an attempt to cut off flow of refugees into Turkey. Still, the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey exceeds 10,000, and Turkish authorities reportedly undertake on Sunday their first humanitarian relief mission inside Syrian territories.

The announcement by an activist featured yesterday in a New York Time’s article (Jamil Saeb) of the formation of a national council on the Syrian-Turkish border seems to have been an impromptu decision, as all known activists named by him, including Suhair Al-Atassy, Haitham Al-Maleh, Aref Dalilah and Mamoun Al-Homsy strove to distance themselves from the announcement. Still, this could be a positive step should greater coordination with opposition groups take place in due course of time.

Calls for general strike are heeded in several cities and suburbs, with more calls being now made for boycotting the businesses of Assad loyalists.

The Consultative Council of the Antalya Conference convenes virtually on Friday and elects a 9-member Executive Council tasked with lobbying the international community to garner greater support for the Syrian revolution.

The Syrian regime's "continued brutality may allow (President Bashar al-Assad) to delay the change that is under way in Syria, it will not reverse it," Clinton wrote in the pan-Arab daily published in London. "The most important question of all -- what does this mean for Syria?s future? -- is increasingly clear: There is no going back."
Clinton's discussion with Lavrov on Syria focused on the activity in the Security Council "and how the US and Russia can work together to make sure that we can get to a UN Security Council resolution", Victoria Nuland, a US state department spokeswoman, said.
Cairo - Outgoing Arab League chief Amr Mussa said on Saturday the Arab world was worried about events in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad's regime is pursuing a deadly crackdown on anti-government protests. "There is a worry in the Arab world and in the region concerning the events in Syria," Mussa told reporters after a meeting in the Egyptian capital focusing on events in Libya.

The truth about organized resistance is revealed in this paragraph from a Mirror report: 

High on a mountain road some miles away, there is some evidence of organised resistance. Young men guard a checkpoint, but the few guns look more like hunting rifles than assault weapons. They are facing tanks. If it came to a fight, the battle would be swift and one-sided.

Speaking about organized resistance in general without making the distinction made above is quite dangerous: 1) it supports official propaganda about armed groups and lends some legitimacy to their crackdown,  2) it ignores the fact that this resistance was the product not the cause of the violent crackdown, and 3) it overstates the nature and capabilities of the “resistance,” making many think of the current situation in Syria as a conflict between equals rather than cold-blooded massacres on the hand, occasionally meeting with some improvised and often individual acts of self-defense and reprisals on the other.

We cannot afford blurring the dividing line between the Assads and their thugs on the one hand, and the peaceful protesters on the other, lest we become party to the crimes perpetrated by the Assads. For this, let’s avoid the temptation of projecting potential future scenarios on the present, lest they become self-fulfilling prophecies, especially when these scenarios represent the worst possible outcome.

An Antalya Update:

On Friday, June 17, 2011, the Consultative Council of the Change in Syrian Conference that took place in Antalya Turkey between May 31st and July 2nd, held a virtual meeting that culminated in the election of an Executive Council tasked with contacting the international community to elicit their support for the Syrian revolution and the demands of the revolutionaries, including the ousting of Bashar Al-Assad and the dismantling of his family-based regime.  

The Arabic press, led by a report in Asharq Al-Awsat, pictured this Council as a government-in-exile and then referred to the announcement of a national council by Jamil Sael, and to the Brussels conference to conclude that the Syrian opposition is fragmenting. In reality, however, the Executive Council is not a government-in-exile, or a transitional council, but a lobby group tasked with garnering international support for the cause of democratic transition in Syria, pure and simple. Conferees have been adamant in their assertion that a transitional government can only be formed on Syrian soil and with the full participation of the Syrian protest leaders and the Syrian people.

Another mistake by made the media, both regional and international, over the last couple of days, is the rush to hang on a hopeful announcement of a singular activist regarding the formation of a national council to make it into the actual without doing any fact checking. In reality, the activist, Jamil Saeb, as well-intentioned as he may be, did not consult the very people he named to the council and does not seem to be fully aware of the implications of his announcement. What he did comes as an individual act that does not compare to what took place in either Antalya or Brussels. I think many members of regional and international media are doing too many parallels between what happened in Libya and what’s and/or could be happening in Syria and rushing to judgments on this basis. But this is not Libya, and the few similarities should not blind us to the glaring differences. Even if the border region ends up getting controlled by opposition elements, the situation will not unfold a la Benghazi. Our neighbor on this border is NATO member called Turkey, not Tunisia, a country with a strong central government, its own regional ambitions, and a strong interest in controlling everything that happens at its own borders, an interest that could unfold in any number of ways. We all need to be cautious in how we choose to cover these events to complicating an already complex situation.

As for the Brussels Conference, its organizers themselves never intended it to be a major opposition conference meant to create the kind of representation we sought to create at Antalya, and was mostly dominated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Moreover, there were crossovers in terms of participation between the two conferences. As such, we are practically left with one major organizational attempt, namely the Antalya Conference, representing current both inside and outside the country, surrounded by a myriad groups and figures who so far failed to organize themselves for whatever reason. In due course of time, the Antalya Consultative Council is set to expand, as per its mandate, to include more groups and figures, under the emblem of the demands made in its final resolution, occasionally referred to as the Antalya Declaration. Still, it will never be all inclusive, nor should it try to be so. Not all currents or figures can or should be accommodated. Since this is not meant as a transitional government, this should not be the goal anyway. Rather, both the Consultative and Executive councils should focus their efforts and energies on the task they set for themselves: garnering support for the revolution and for the cause of democratic change in Syria. The credibility of the councils and of the Antalya Group in general in the international community, not on their inclusivity, their membership is sufficiently diverse as it is, rather it should rest on the ability of their members to impose themselves on the international scenes through their dedication, organization, messaging, ideas, and actions.

Members of the Antalya Executive Council (in alphabetical order):

1.       Amr Al-Azm (Assistant Professor of Middle East History & Anthropology, Shawnee State University)
2.       Mulham Al-Droubi (ranking member of the Muslim Brotherhood)
3.       Ahed Alhindi (a youth activist based in Washington, DC, works for  
4.       Radwan Badini (Kurdish rights activist and a professor at the University of Irbeel)
5.       Muhammad Karkouti (journalist specialized in covering economic affairs)
6.       Abdel Ilah Milhem (Tribal leader and entrepreneur)
7.       Ammar Qurabi (human rights activist, president of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria)
8.      Sondos Sulaiman (a liberal activist and a member of the Hadatha Party based in Germany)
9.       Khawla Yusuf (independent liberal activist based in Washington, DC, and a co-founder the Tharwa Foundation)  

Homs / Rastan / June 1: this was just uploaded, a video of a martyr that fell to a sniper’s bullet on June 1. The activist making the video comments: “the army is liberating Rastan of its own Salafist infiltrating residents…”
Another video showing a martyr who fell on the same day.
Homs / Talbisseh / June 17: in several locations now, Assad’s army units used anti-aircraft munitions to shell the cities.

Damascus / Midan / Hassan Mosque / June 17: scenes from the Shabbiha attack on the worshippers inside the Hassan Mosque. Protesters chant “the people want to topple the regime’ as they clash with the Shabbiha (aided by security forces), who later withdrew and began throwing stones at the worshippers.
As stone-throwing by Shabbiha continues, worshippers begin cursing them saying “You Jews, You Jews.” Yes, this is indeed anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism is still alive and well in our midst, whether it is Assad officials describing the protesters as Zionist conspirators, or as in this instance, the protesters calling the Shabbiha “Jews” as a pejorative statement. The difference lies in the fact that the political leadership of the protesters is not interested in opening Golan Front, since developing the country is the main demand of their constituency, their anti-Semitism notwithstanding. We still have a way to go before we are rid of that. Hopefully, a genuine peace process under a genuinely democratic government would facilitate and speed up the process.

Deraa / Deraa City / June 19: despite the extensive siege of the city, residents try to mount a demonstration calling for toppling the regime.
And into the night…

Idlib / Mouarrat Al-Nouman / June 19: despite the siege, the local inhabitants organize an anti-regime demonstration
Idlib / Kafar Nabol / June 19: “the people want to topple the regime”
Idlib / Bdama / June 18: army units burn the bushes around the village of Bdama on the Turkish border to flush out the local residents who took refuge there.
Idlib / Bdama / June 18: army units enter the village of Bdama
Idlib / Mouarrat Hourma / June 18: a demonstration in support of Jisr Ashoughour. “Down with Bashar”
Homs / Dablan Neighborhood / June 19: a demonstration. “The people want to topple the regime”
Homs / June 19: a protester pretends to be talking to Bashar Al-Assad on the phone and listening to his proposals. He tells the crowds: he will give 50,000 Syrian pounds to each of you per month ($1,000). The crowd says: no. How about a house and a car for each of you? The crowd says; no. So, what do you want? The crowd: the people want to topple the regime.
Homs / June 19: a vigil
Homs / June 18: a funeral for an activist who fell on Friday.
Homs / June 18: the city goes on strike
Homs / Bab Al-Dreib / June 17: protesters adopt the pro-Assad militias’ chant of “Abou Hafiz” with a slight modification “A far to Abou Hafiz”
Hama City / June 19: an all-women demonstration
Hama City / June 19: a vigil.
Hama City / June 18: a vigil. “We only bow before God”
Damascus / Qatana / June 19: an all-women protest. “The people want to topple the regime”
Damascus / Qaboun / June 19: a children demonstration
Damascus / Arbeen / June 19: a vigil
Damascus / Kisweh / June 19: a vigil. “The people want to topple the regime.” “Leave, leave”
Damascus / Qatana / June 19: a vigil
Damascus / Kafar Sousseh / June 19: “the [people want to topple the regime” “Bashar is the biggest thief”
Damascus / Saqba / June 19: a vigil
Damascus / Harasta / June 18: funerals for Friday’s martyrs
Damascus / Douma / June 18: funeral for Friday’s martyr. “There is no god but God, and Assad is the enemy of God”
Damascus / Douma / June 18: the merging of the Douma and Harasta demonstrations.
Damascus / Kisweh / June 18: a vigil in support of Douma.
Damascus / Barzeh / June 18: a vigil
Damascus / Saqba / June 18: a vigil
Damascus / Midan / June 18: a vigil. “Long live Syria, Down with Bashar Al-Assad”
Lattakia / Al-Ramel / June 19: an all-children demonstration. “For shame, for shame, the Shabbiha at the gate.”
Lattakia / Al-Ramel / June 19: a vigil
Lattakia / Al-Ramel / June 18: a vigil
Deir Ezzor / Qouriyeh / June 18: a vigil
Deir Ezzor / June 18: a funeral for Friday’s martyrs