Friday, July 22, 2011

Tomorrow’s Leaders!

As official violence increases due to the Assads ongoing attempt as stirring up sectarian hatreds and their plan to transform the revolution into a confessional conflict, protest leaders continue to affirm their commitment to national unity and the peaceful nature of their movement.

Monday July 21, 2011 / The Last Week:
Every Friday for the last 2 months have witnessed larger and larger protests, tomorrow will likely continue the trend.

Damascus and its suburbs witnessed increasing defiance on part of the protesters and increasingly violent crackdown on part of Assad’s security forces, especially in the Qaboun, Harasta, Douma, Zabadani, Ruknaddine and Midan neighborhoods. Harasta and Douma in particular have been reportedly besieged by units affiliated with the 4th Division.

Assad’s Death Squads increased their activities in Homs in the hope of stirring up sectarian conflict. In the process, more than 50 people were killed in Bab Amr, Bab Al-Sibaa and Khaldiyyeh, among other neighborhoods. Hundreds of stores belonging to Sunni and Christian merchants were looted by Shabbiha gangs as security forces looked on and did nothing to stop them. But security forces were quick to prevent an initial meeting of Sunni and Alawite religious figures meant to underline the strong ties that exist between the two communities in Homs. Still, leaders from both communities did get together and issued a statement condemning crackdown by security forces and the Shabbiha. If anything, then, the current crackdown seems to be driving the communities closer, and there is now more anger among local Alawites towards the Assads and their loyalists. Fissures within the Alawties communities are growing, and more are joining the revolution. Still the city is virtually in a “state of war,” as some local activists put it, but the fight is between the locals and the security forces, not but between different confessional groups. The situation is having an impact on the army, with dozens of offices reportedly defecting to join the revolution.

Assad security forces continue to mount a mass detention campaign against suspected protester leaders around the country in the hope of weakening the protest movement in the run-up to the holy month of Ramadan where protests are scheduled to take place every day and night. The number of detainees is now estimated at 16,000.

Assad security forces and death squads increase their operations in towns on the border with Lebanon. At one point, they even crossed the border and fired at residents of a nearby Lebanese village accusing them of harboring Syrian fugitives.

More than 550 army troops defected during a siege of the city of Albou Kamal on the border of Iraq. An army general later negotiated a truce with local residents pledging that the 4th Division will not take part in any future operations in the area.

Known and respected members of the artistic community in Damascus joined the protest movement and took part in demonstrations and public gatherings calling for toppling the regime. Several were arrested and later released, only to take part in new demonstrations. The development comes as Damascus witnesses more demonstrations closer to the City’s center, including a demonstration in Thursday by over 500 university students in support of Homs.

An opposition conference in Istanbul billed as the Conference to end all conferences ended up in failure, despite its success at endorsing a 25-member National Council. The event was officially boycotted by numerous opposition groups, and its organizers criticized each other on Arab media before, during and after the conference. Representatives of the main Kurdish parties and tribal groups withdrew before the conference concluded its works, in protests over the drastic alternations made on the agreed text of the final statement sent from Damascus, so did dozens of independent dissidents. The event was received with much disappointment on the ground. At least 10 out of 25 members are representatives of Islamist currents, and there are reports that several members of the Council have withdrawn.  

Elsewhere in Istanbul, in the European side of the City, the Consultative Council stemming out of the Change in Syria Conference that took place in Antalya, Turkey on May 31-June 2, held its non-virtual meeting since its election and agreed a final structure and a work plan for the coalition, which continues to project itself as a support group for the revolution rather than a transitional government.  

On Thursday the national Council of the Damascus Declaration called for forming a national council composed of protester leaders, community leaders from different backgrounds and geographical locations in cooperation with opposition figures. But representatives of Declaration, still, the largest opposition coalition inside Syria, failed to explain when, how or what steps will be taken to facilitate the formation of said council.

Cyprus revokes Bashar Al-Assad’s maternal cousin Rami Makhlouf’s recently acquired citizenship, without giving any details on the matter. Rami obtained his citizenship last January.

Syrian FM, Walid Al-Moalem, warns U.S. and French ambassadors against leaving Damascus.

Like its counterparts in Arab states swept by revolution, Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood has been struggling to catch up with the swelling of youth protests challenging the regime of Bashar al-Assad… But Mr Shaqfa says no one is reaching out to him to understand his organisation’s positions. “The west wants an alternative that pleases them, not what the people want,” he says. “But no one has tried us, and we’re not scary.”
What the Erdogan government intends to do about the worsening situation next door could have extremely important ramifications for not just the region but also for Turkey’s relations with such countries as Iran (pro-Syria), Israel (anti-Syria), as well as the Obama administration and European Union.
Some 200 refugees manage to cross into Lebanon overnight, fearing escalation of violence in coming days by President Assad's troops.
By closing its embassy in Damascus and calling back its ambassador to Doha, Qatar is contributing to Syria’s growing international isolation, says political scientist Karim Sader… “It’s thanks to Qatar that France, under Nicolas Sarkozy, renewed relations with Damascus,” Sader concluded. “It’s also Qatar that rallied for President Assad to be invited to the July 14 parade [in honour of Bastille Day] in 2008.”
HAMA, Syria — As anthems go, this one is fittingly blunt. “Come on Bashar, leave,” it declares to President Bashar al-Assad. And in the weeks since it was heard in protests in this city, the song has become a symbol of the power of the protesters’ message, the confusion in their ranks and the violence of the government in stopping their dissent.
Others have hedged their bets. The actor Muna Wassif, the mother of the democracy activist Ammar Abdulhamid, who runs a blog on Syria's revolution, called in May for an end to the killing and the lifting of sieges on villages but stopped short of calling for the regime to go.

“Nothing is ever settled until it is settled right” – Rudyard Kipling
White House demonstration to support Syrian people rights to freedom (July 23)

The real lesson emerging from Hama, Deir Ezzor, Albou Kamal and before them Deraa and Banyas is that the Syrian people are very capable of managing their affairs without involvement of the regime or the opposition groups. This includes maintaining law and order and preventing any kind of communal strife from taking roots. Given the chance, protesters can provide both security and freedom. The Assad regime provides neither. Meanwhile, the traditional opposition continues to struggle to get their act together.

The international community wants an alternative to the Assads, but it’s looking in the wrong direction for that: it’s the Syrian people who can provide the alternative, and they are indeed doing so whenever they get the chance. They simply cannot do so openly in the presence of tanks and snipers. With the Assads out of the way, and the army and security forces neutralized, it will be a different story. Communities will elect their local leaders who can then interact with each other to launch the larger process of forming a unity government and supervising the transitional period.

The role of traditional opposition groups and figures in this process will be limited and they might indeed emerge more as spoilers than facilitators or saviors, unless, of course, they are willing to play by the new rules, to be team players, to leave behind old party loyalties and lines, and learn how to listen to and follow the people rather than insist on dictating the terms, because this is an essential part of democratic leadership. The old political dogs who can actually learn new tricks in the face of all odds could still be relevant. Otherwise, they can follow the regime and be consigned to that good old dustbin of history.

As such, the international community does not have to wait for the opposition to unite before beginning to engage army generals and call on the Assads to depart. Protest leaders might be unknown, but their ability to fill up the void left by the withdrawal of Assad officials and forces has been amply demonstrated. What the international community needs from the Syrian opposition is not to provide the political leadership for the Revolution, but to field a group of interlocutors and facilitators who, through their contacts with some protest leaders and their ability to track and explain the rapidly changing situation on the ground can serve as interim spokespeople for the revolution, and who one day can become viable partners in the transitional process, but necessarily its only leaders.

Pushing for opposition unity in these circumstances comes as an unwitting attempt to set up another group of usurpers of popular will. This is at least how the protesters on the ground see things, and this is why most of whom rejected the idea of having the opposition form a transitional government or a shadow cabinet. The failure of the Salvation Conference in garnering their support means that protest leaders now consider themselves to be the more legitimate leaders, and that their political vision for the future assigns little role to traditional opposition figures and movements.

Despite increasing reports of sectarian clashes, the real story of the protest movement at this stage is the increasing participation of members of the Alawite and Christian community in the protest movement, their increasing visibility, and continued emphasis on the unifying national character of the Great Syrian Revolution. The videos below illustrate the point.

Hama City / July 19: young protesters chant in support of rebellious communities, especially those in neighboring Homs. They also chant in support of the Alawite Community, saying “Long live the Alawites, we don’t want sectarianism.” They also take an old slogan in support of Hafiz Al-Assad and twisted to become “Hafiz Assad, the Dog of the Arab Nation” 
Salamiyyeh / July 18: thousands demonstrate demanding Bashar’s departure in this multi-sectarian town.
Damascus / Qaboun / July 18: A demonstration by hundreds of women from different sects and denominations include invoking Christian and Muslim scriptures and singing in celebrations of the homeland and of national unity.


Homs / Rastan / June 1: this newly uploaded video shows the random shelling of the town of Rastan. The entire event is one-sided, that is, no one is shooting back, and troops carrying out the shelling are talking and giggling all through the process as though it were a game.
Damascus / Douma / July 15: protesters show injuries consisting of new type of projectiles used by security.
Idlib / Kafar Nabbol / July 16: security officers shoot the feet of a child to force his mother to inform on the whereabouts of her husband.

Damascus / Qaboun / July 17: Actor Muhammad Alarashi addresses the protesters in Qaboun, fallowing the massacre on Friday July 15, and leads chants of “One, the Syrian people are one” and “Long live Syria, Down with Bashar Al-Assad”
Damascus / Barzeh / July 16: Actor Faris Al-Hilou and Author Rima Flayhan addressing mourners, declaring solidarity with the protest movement, and affirming that the Syrian people are indeed one.

Syrian actors and writers have acquired a reputation for bravery and brazen criticism over the last few years, but what most people did not understand is that most of them, despite their frank criticism, were actually pro-regime at heart. Their scripts were approved by various security officials and they maintained regular personal contacts with the various security chiefs who made a point of courting the artistic and intellectual communities in a continuation of a strategy first deployed by the late Hafiz Al-Assad. All clips below are taken from works produced in 2008.

(Security chief warns suspects to put their signatures on an empty page, or face the dire consequences. Almost every former political prisoner in Syria has found himself in a similar position at one point during the interrogation)
(To get out of sticky situation resulting from their mishandling of a situation where few voyeurs were caught spying on female foreign diplomats in a public bath, reaches the conclusion that the best way to avoid international embarrassment is to accuse of being members of newly found terrorist group formed in protest of American imperialist practices. This clip proves that Syrian people and intellectuals all quite familiar with how security officials can trump up charges against innocent people.
(This clip shows how easily it is for security officials to transform innocent people into terrorists and make them to confess to that on TV)
(This clip shows how authorities renege on promises of democratic reforms when people begin demonstrating demanding end to poverty)