Friday, October 28, 2011

It’s official folks: the Syrian people want a No-Fly Zone!

Daily adult and student protests keep unfolding amidst continued shelling of towns and neighborhoods and orchestrated support demonstrations throughout the country.

Thursday October 27, 2011

14 people were killed in the continuing crackdown by pro-Assad militias against unarmed protesters throughout the country. 5 including one child were killed in the town of Karnaz in Hama Province, 5 more fell in Homs Province, 2 in Deraa/Hauran Province and 1 in the coastal town of Jableh in Lattakia Province.


Activists and protest leaders decided to name the coming Friday, Friday of the No-Fly Zone. It’s official then: the people want a no-fly zone

“The overwhelming majority of Arabs in the six nations covered in the survey side with those Syrians demonstrating against the government (from 83% in Morocco to 100% in Jordan). And when asked whether Bashar Al Assad can continue to govern, the highest affirmative ratings he receives are 15% in Morocco and 14% in Egypt.”

Assad no longer popular! Say it ain’t so! Oh, what a difference 8 months of killing your own people do! All Assad had to do to prove that he is an irredeemable dictator is kill 3,500 of his own people. Arabs are definitely not so fickle!

But, of course, for a poll sponsored by the Arab American Institute, a recommendation along these lines is a must:

“The country receiving the lowest rating for its role in Syria is the United States, which should serve as a cautionary note for U.S. policy-makers. Despite the appeals of some in the Syrian opposition, Syria appears not to be a place where U.S. interference will ultimately be welcomed - especially in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.”

But how about Syria? Would U.S. interference be ultimately welcomed there? Considering the warm reception Ambassador Robert Ford had in Hama City and other protest communities he visited, the answer might be frighteningly positive. But why should anyone give a damn? Why should the possibility of changing the political landscape of the region be of any tantalizing interest to the United States?

L’homme revolte et la fait accomplis

By coincidence, I received several inquiries today about the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Syrian National Council, and about my current take on the SNC in general. Rather than send separate private responses, I thought sharing my ideas in public would do more good seeing that SNC is scheduled to announce its final structure in the next few days. So, here goes:

Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood, especially the Aleppo Branch still loyal to former leader Sadreddine Bayanouni, has a lot of influence over the SNC from behind the scenes. In this, the MB doesn’t just rely on its formal representatives, but also on allegedly independent Islamist figures, few Leftist sympathizers and former members, excommunicated for one reason or another, who went on to join other coalitions, such as the Damascus Declaration Council, among others. This arrangement allows the MB to exert influence while maintaining a low formal profile. As such, the official seats reserved for the MB seem reasonable, but through this wider network, their influence is enormous.

Of course, they still have to forge alliances outside this network, hence the ability of Burhane Ghalioun and others to maneuver and dictate some terms. The exclusion of certain figures like Haitham Al-Maleh, Abdurrazzak Eid from the closed selection process that led to the formation of the SNC seems more related to their unwillingness to play ball in this game. Private arrangements and deals are part of the political process, but when the entire process is based on these kinds of arrangements, it becomes problematic and open to hidden agendas. This is the essence of y criticism of the SNC.

The thing is there was really no moral or technical justification for the way the SNC was put together. The previous attempts at council formation in Antalya and elsewhere were criticized for insufficient transparency and inclusiveness, but the process of forming the SNC was the least transparent and inclusive of all.

Considering the fact that all of these efforts are being led by expats in exile, where we have the ability to meet and discuss freely, and considering the diversity of the Syrian political scene, I see little justification for the lack of a democratic vote in the formation of a transitional council. Agreeing on a specific electoral system and quotas for all the political and ethnic groups will not be easy, of course, but attempting to sidestep this difficulty through the adoption of a closed system of selection supervised by forces with ideologies that fail to reflect the beliefs and interests of wide segments of the Syrian population, is definitely not the solution, especially when that solution is packaged, gift-wrapped and presented as a fait accomplis.

As a democracy activist, I am not in the business of putting up with faits accomplis, not when I believe they are wrong.

Many people think or would like to create the impression that SNC critics like me are those who were denied positions in its leadership structure and are sore about it. Perhaps for some, this is indeed the case. But for most, myself included, the main problem is that the SNC formation process robbed us of our voice, of our voting right, of our say in the making and decision-making of an entity that could be destined to play a crucial role in the history of our country, for no fathomable reason other than logistical convenience, if we are to assume that the intentions were always pure and that no hidden agendas were at play. The problem becomes worse if we are to assume that the intentions of some key players may not have been as pure.

In all cases, being who I am, I cannot accept or be quiet about this situation, even if my attitude proved unpopular in certain quarters. Certain things just have to be done right, because they are meant to be the basis of so many other things in the future. Many argue that the SNC in its current makeup is only a temporary short-term procedural entity, and that, for this reason we can put up with its shortcomings, but the way they themselves jockeyed for positions in SNC belie that they actually believe that. When SNC figures and their supporters ask us to be quiet and refrain from public criticism without addressing any of the concerns we raised, and by using emotional arguments regarding the disastrous effect the collapse of the SNC will likely have on the Syrian street not to mention on the credibility of opposition groups on the international scene, throw even more doubts on the intentions of SNC leaders, as these arguments show that they are unwilling to change. But transitional processes are too complex and unpredictable, and we cannot afford to tackle them with a mentality that tries to sweep errors under the carpet rather than fix them.

In short, don't count on me to become a yes-man irrespective of the pressures I am under. Before asking me to be a team-player, let’s agree on the rules of the game. Once the rules are agreed, I will play for the team regardless of my position in the field, because I am not in it for myself, and I am not a naysayer for the sake of it. My critique of anything, and not just the SNC, will always be premised on the ideas and principles I have always advocated. For instance, the Tharwa Foundation started out as a project dedicated to raising awareness about minority rights and improving inter-communal relations, so is it any surprise that I keep raising the issue of communal representation in my critique of opposition coalitions.

Some are wary that we are focusing too much on each other at this stage, rather than the regime. They are both right and wrong. Many feel free and justified in focusing on oppositional politics because they sincerely believe that the regime is in its final days, and that it is only a matter of time before it falls. I believe this is an arrogant assumption. I believe the Assads have a good chance to survive this. To believe in victory without entertaining the possibility of defeat numbs the senses and makes one impervious to feeling the urgency of the situation, opportunities get missed as a result.

Personally, updating this digest, among other activities, helps me avoid this pitfall, as it keeps connected to the raw realities on the ground.

On the other hand, focusing on the SNC and oppositional politics is part of the process of conjuring an alternative to Assad rule. As such, it is a healthy and necessary phenomenon. It might be confusing and frustrating as hell, but it’s also unavoidable. But it needs to be tackled with the right frame of mind, herein the challenge. The fate of the revolution depends in no small part on how many of us, inside the country and out, have that right frame.

A debate in SAIS between myself and my colleague Radwan Ziadeh on the future of the Syrian Revolution and the SNC

Pro-Assad militias roam the streets of Da’el in Deraa/Hauran Province , A child is killed as a result of their activities , The funeral

In Saraqib in Idlib Province, people bury the child that fell yesterday

A martyr from Kafar Nabboudeh, Hama Province 

A new Brigade formed by defectors under the Free Syrian Army umbrella

Impact of shelling on Baba Amr Neighborhood in Homs City , , Bab Al-Sibaa

Elsewhere in the city, a Deir Baalbah martyr

In Shammas, a car explodes after being shelled , Tanks roam the nearby neighborhood of Midan

A funeral in Qoussour

At night shelling of Deir Baalbah and other neighborhoods resumes Khaldiyeh Qoussour

Other major demonstrations

Damascus: Harasta

Homs Province: Palmyra (Tadmor) Houleh

Deraa/Hauran: Hraak Basr Al-Harir