Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Counter-Reform!

For all the talk of reform by Assad and his officials, his steps indicate a further retrenchment and a deepening of the crisis. The worst is yet to come.

Wednesday June 29, 2011

Syrian troops storm new villages on the Turkish borders killing 16 unarmed residents: 8 in Jabal Al-Zawiyeh, 4 in Rami, 2 in Mar-Ayan, 1 in Sarjah and I in Kafar Haya … The storming of Rami follows on the heel of a vigil in which over 2,000 local residents took part … The US Treasury imposes sanctions on Syria's Political Security Directorate for human rights abuses ... Protesters across Syria burn their utility bills today as a new act of civil disobedience and noncooperation with evil …  

"All of this violence comes a day after the regime said they would invite political opponents to discuss a framework for political reform in July. We do not accept invitations from murderers," said a member of the Syrian Local Coordination Committee, the uprising's main activist group, who preferred to remain anonymous.
They differ over how to interpret the government’s decision there, asking whether the departure points to a government attempt to avoid casualties and another potentially explosive clash in a restive country, or to an exhausted repressive apparatus stretched too thin.
(Reuters) - Syria's economy, reeling from three months of unrest, faces currency pressures that could deplete reserves and undermine President Bashar al-Assad's chances of political survival, businessmen and diplomats said.
(Reuters) - A growing number of Syrian soldiers are deserting the army to avoid taking part in the military crackdown against protesters demanding the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.

Attend the Nation’s Largest Rally in Solidarity with the Syrian People – July 3rd 4:00pm - 7:00pm, Downtown Chicago, 232 Ohio St. Chicago, IL

The Obama Administration may not want to recall its Ambassador to Syria, but at least they can stop the misinformation and intimidation campaign launched by Assad’s Ambassador Imad Mustapha against the Syrian –American community. The Syria Accountability Act provides for that but, for some reason, the provision calling for restricting the movement and activities of the Ambassador has not been implemented. It should be borne in mind that Assad’s Ambassador to London, Sami Khiyami, got summoned and warned yesterday and he's not half as active as Mustapha.

Mustapha rallying the Assad troops in Michigan
In this event, Mustapha speaks of reform and dialogue while condemning the phantom armed groups his president conjured since the beginning of the Revolution. Moreover, as the second clip below shows, the event was organized by Syrian Christians and the Lebanese Shia community in Dearborn, Michigan (read Hezbollah supporters). That shouldn’t be surprising of course. The only two cards that the regime still has in its position is: sectarianism and the alliance with Iran and Hezbollah. As such, for all talk of reform by Assad and his officials, stoking sectarian fires and furthering his alliance with terrorist entities come not as signs of reform, but of further entrenchment and a deepening of the crisis. 

On Kucinich’s Visit to Syria:

Congressman Kucinich may want us to believe that he was misquoted by Assad’s state-run media, but, be that as it may, his actual views on the situation are completely misguided and are conducive neither to reform, nor peace, nor democracy, nor anything but empowering a regime that is killing its own people. We are quite fortunate that most congressmen do not share his views.

This is how the Congressman’s visit and views were exploited by Assad media:

U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who is visiting Syria, called on the international community to lift the sanctions on Syria, to support its economy, and to assist in transforming it into a free, democratic country.

Kucinich warned that the Syrian crisis would have negative implications on the region and the world. He praised steps taken by the regime and claimed that President Assad is working to create a new Syria, and that oppositionists in the country are free to speak their minds.

He also called on the media to not dramatize the events, and said that the Syrian situation is different from that of Egypt or Tunisia because the Syrian people want Assad to enact the reforms.

The Syrian daily Al-Watan, which is close to the regime, reported that the visit was organized by the Syrian Embassy in the U.S. "as part of a campaign intended to relieve external pressure on the regime, and allow it to present its position."

Source: Al-Watan, SANA News Agency (Syria), June 29, 2011.

This is the Washington Post’s take on the matter:

NYT does again with talk about insurgents without providing any corroboration. I said it before and I say it again, a few people getting together to arm themselves with a few hunting rifles and a Kalashnikov or two do not make an armed insurgent group. American officials’ word is not sacrosanct, they are not exactly above making wrong and foolish inferences, or reiterating an ideological line, especially when they speak on condition of anonymity. So, if there is someone out there who actually have proof to offer of the existence of Syrian armed groups worthy of the name, other than the pro-Assad shabbiha that is, let him out now!

“Syrian officials played down the idea that the departure of government forces suggested a void in their authority. Since the beginning of the uprising, the government has said that much of the violence has occurred in clashes with armed opponents and, indeed, American officials have corroborated the existence of insurgents in some areas in Syria.”

Idlib / Jisr Ashoughour: a makeshift pharmacy
Turkish Border / Rayhaniyyeh Refugee Camp / June 28: an anti-Assad protest
An Appeal to Asmaa Al-Assad to join the Revolution: no one is holding his breath of course, but the whole mystic surrounding Asmaa should underscore the need in the West for expecting more of Middle Eastern leaders than sporting pretty westernized wives and employing honeyed words before they are considered reformers.
Damascus / Madaya: a funeral
Damascus / Douma: local women demonstrate and chant “We want freedom” and “One who kills his own people is a traitor”
Damascus / Saqba
Homs / Rastan: protesters chant “Damn your soul Hafiz (Al-Assad)”
Deraa / Al-Jizah: “the people want to topple the regime”
Idlib / Kafar Nabol / June 28: people take control of their city and organize a meeting for the local committee. “The people want to topple the regime”
Homs / Rastan: an old video of an army tanks destroying motorcycles belonging to local residents during the incursion that took place three weeks ago.
Hama City: Baccalaureate students demonstrate while waiving the independence flag

Vigils: The most common chants heard throughout are of course: “the people want to topple the regime” “Get out Bashar”

Deir Ezzor City: over 50,000 people chanted “Abu Hafiz (i.e. Bashar Al-Assad) sold out the Golan”. The fireworks shown in the third video highlight the festive ambience. Army and security forces have completely pulled out from the city and surroundings. Other chants “Long live Syria, and down with Assad the Dog”
Hama City: a similar situation prevails in Hama City and environs as well.
Deir Ezzor /Alboukamal: a similar situation prevails.
Damascus / Qaboun: the first video actually shows the people burning their utility bills
Damascus / Saqba
Damascus / Al-Qadam
Damascus / Midan:
Damascus / Madaya
Homs / Al-Waer Neighborhood
Homs / Rastan
Homs / Hawleh
Hama / Kafar Zita
Hama / Hilfaya
Idlib City: despite the crackdown taking place in this restive province, protests were still organized in several communities, including the capital.
Idlib / Banash: “Syria ours and does not belong to the Assads” “By a show of hands, we Syrians don’t want Assad”

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hocus Shmocus!

As Assad and his officials try to pull a new non-existent rabbit out of a bottomless hat, the White House and some foreign officials seem willing to play along, which is how Assad-style magic works. Still, the protesters reserve the right to respond on Friday. It’s their show, after all.  

Tuesday June 28, 2011

Human rights organizations reported that more than a 1,000 new arrests took place over the last week, including 400 students from Aleppo University, and 100 from Damascus University … A delegation representing the Antalya Conference met with Russian officials, including Mikhael Margelov, head of the foreign relations committee in the Russian Duma, who said at the end of the meeting that “Russia has only one friend in Syria: her people.” …

All we want is our freedom. We know the cost, but we are ready to pay the price. With 1,300 dead already, we cannot give up now, because their deaths would have been in vain.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) gave a press conference in Syria this week and appeared to heap praise upon Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is being widely criticized for the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in that country. Kucinich said his words were mistranslated.
(RTTNews) - British Foreign Office said Tuesday that it had summoned Sami Khiyami, Syria's ambassador to the UK, to express concerns over claims that a diplomat at the Syrian embassy in London had been intimidating Syrians living in Britain.
Mr Assad’s recent speech does not show much promise, neither does his vague offer of a dialogue with an unspecified group of citizens. A referral by the UN Security Council to the ICC may encourage him to follow through on genuine reforms that have long been pledged but never realised. Actions, not words, will influence any ICC decisions.
Exiled Syrian opposition figures urged Russia on Tuesday to persuade Syria's President Bashar al-Assad to resign, warning that Moscow risked being left behind by history unless it withdrew its support for the leader. Senior Russian officials, who have thwarted Western attempts to condemn Assad for crushing protests against his rule, held a meeting with some of Assad's most vociferous critics in Moscow. (Reuters)
The revolutionaries of Damascus believe that the Syria of the future will be part of a new world, rather than a remote island living in the dark ages. In their secret meetings, they long for a Syria that breathes religious moderation, a Syria that is a home for the development of political ideas.
As the Syrian dissident in exile, Ammar Abdulhamid, said, the Syrian revolution is not stillborn – it is a healthy baby that may form the "foundation of a future Syria".
GUVECCI, Turkey — It’s a familiar nightmare for Syrians. In 1982, Syria's military employed a “scorched-earth” policy to quell protests in the northern town of Hama, killing 25,000 people. But Syrian refugees now fleeing into Turkey say that although history appears to be repeating itself, the outcome will be different this time.

For those interested in providing medical assistance to Syrian refugees, this is one case that merits attention:

The opposition conference that took place in Damascus in the Semiramis Hotel (instead of the Sheraton) on Monday, June 27, came out with a statement that must have disappointed the Assads in its substance, but then the Assads don’t care much about substance, and focus more on their ability to manipulate popular impressions and perceptions through their control over state-media and influence over many regional media outlets, as well as the willing blindness and ideological predilections of many international observers. This has always been the essence of their “magic.” And it is for this reason that I, among most dissidents I know, opposed the conference. We had no doubt about the good intentions and patriotism of the participants, but we understood all too well that their intentions and patriotic sentiments are simply irrelevant. At end of the day, the Assads had their magic show, and their act seems to have generated the desired effect in exactly the right quarters: the White House. 

The caveats expressed by Jay Carney notwithstanding, this was not a good statement nor does it augur well as for what future WH policy on Syria will be like. The Assads will like it of course, but the protesters won’t.  Their Will Be Done!

THE WHITE HOUSE | Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release | June 27, 2011 | PRESS BRIEFING | BY PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room - 12:53 P.M. EDT

Q. The members of the political opposition met in Syria for the first time in this current cycle of unrest.  And I’m just wondering whether you see that as evidence that the Assad government is maybe beginning to get the message from the U.S. and others?  There are people who point out that even as these meetings were going on, so was the crackdown.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that’s a good point.  We obviously take note of this, and we think it’s a worthwhile step.  And it would be a significant step if it takes place without interference or intimidation because it would be the first meeting of its kind in decades.  I mean, it is the first meeting of its kind in decades.  But the violence has to stop. As you note, they can’t occur concurrently and be -- and then the situation be declared some giant step forward.  It is a significant -- it is an important step, but for it to be truly significant, it has to be part of a cessation of violence against the Syrian people.  It has to be part of an embrace of the idea that we need -- that they need to have a national dialogue about their future, and that that transition needs to take place with the regime leading it or getting out of the way. So we do take note of this.  We think it’s important, but with all the caveats I just enunciated.

In a related development, and as part of the Assad PR current PR campaign, Congressman Dennis Kucinich and British MP Brooks Newmark paid a visit to Syria over the weekend and met with Bashar Al-Assad in a step that ended up receiving the usual Assad Baathist treatment, transforming it into an endorsement of Assad-planned reforms and of Assad as a person, the original intentions and ideas of Kucinich and Newmark notwithstanding, albeit Kucinich is on record as having Kerry-like positive impressions of Assad. Will Kucinich end up having an awakening a la Senator Kerry? I certainly hope so.

Dictators in our region have always managed to cultivate friends in strange places. But today’s miracles are being produced by the Syrian people, not the ruling thugs. Hama Rules no longer apply today: it is the people who make the rules, and we will not be conned again. Assads have the power, we have the willpower.

Dr. Ammar Qurabi, President of the national Organization for Human Rights in Syria and member of the Executive Committee of the Change in Syria Conference (i.e. the Antalya Conference) lists over 200 communities all over Syrian that witnessed sizeable protests on and every day and night since Friday 24. He also lists the names of hundreds of residents who had been detained since, even as Bashar met with Congressman Kucinich and MP Newmark, and some opposition figure were allowed to hold an open meeting in Damascus. Since the measure of anyone’s credibility is his actions and not his words, Assad has no more credibility. The sooner international officials realize that, the better for all.

Meanwhile, protest communities are now organizing two protests per day, at the very least: one in the morning, one in the afternoon that often spills into the night. But many communities never sleep, and their protests are ongoing. Add to that the general strike now observed in many of these communities, and now you have an idea of what the situation is like across Syria today outside certain neighborhoods in Damascus, Aleppo and Suweida, and, of course, outside the towns and villages emptied due to ongoing military operations. As such, those who still speak of the revolution as a localized movement are deluding themselves. Estimates from last Friday put the total number of protesters who took to the streets at three million.

Out of 100s of daily clips that we get, here are some to give an idea of what’s happening. The scenes, the chants have become all too familiar now. The important point is that they are now taking place on a continuous basis. Naturally, Monday and Tuesday’s protests focused on “toppling the regime” and Bashar’s departure in response to the opposition conference.  


Hama / Hama City / Main Square: anti-Assad vigil.
A song mocking Bashar “Come on, leave Bashar”
Homs / Rastan: a just released video of humiliation endured by the local population on the hands of the soldiers during their last incursion into the city 3 weeks ago.
A Funeral for a recently reformed protester
Homs: tired army troops taking a nap after a long day of killing
Damascus / Barzeh: responding to the crackdown that took place over the last few days leaving over 7 dead, protesters chant: “We want to say it day and night: the people want to topple the regime.”
Damascus / Qaboun: thousands of protesters sing anti-regime songs
Women and children organize their own demonstration
Damascus / Zamalka: another vigil
Damascus / Zabadani
Tartous: heavy security presence only way to prevent protests
Homs / Rastan
Homs / Homs City / Dablan Neighborhood: an all-women’s protest
Homs / Palmyra: the residents of this historic city join the protest movement “the people want to topple the regime”
Deir Ezzor / Deir Ezzor City: “Death is better than humiliation”
Deir Ezzor / Alboukamal: thousands upon thousands chant “the people want to topple the regime” and “get out Bashar”
Idlib / Jabal Al-Zawiyeh: An old woman who lost a son to Assad security officers rails against Bashar and family.
Jabal Al-Zawiyeh: local resident rails against the pro-Assad shabbiha gangs for driving people away from the town, and ruining the cherry-picking season. It’s now a ghost town.
Idlib / Mouarrat Al-Nouman: shabbiha burn the motorcycles of local residents.


Aleppo: Lieutenant Moustapha Yahya Al-Asaad of the military security apparatus announces his defection to join the ranks of the revolutionaries. He says his decision was prompted by the murder of an unarmed protester by the shabbiha as his colleagues watched and then congratulated the shabbiha. He says that the only armed gangs he ever saw were the pro-Assad shabbiha. He calls on his colleagues to join him.
Banias: local residents say security forces burnt this area in order to hide the presence of a mass-grave.
Homs / Al-Khaldiyyeh / June 27: “the people want to topple the regime”
Hama / Hama City / June 27: an evening in the Main Square with protesters singing a song mocking Bashar Al-Assad and asking him to leave.
Hama City: protesters say all together: “the people want to topple the regime” and “we don’t love you, leave us and take your party with you.”
Hama City: a panoramic overview of the vigil
Idlib / Mouarrat Al-Nouman / June 15: Assad launches aerial strikes against headquarters of the state security in the city after it has been taking over by protesters. This is the extant of the crackdown currently taking place.
Idlib / Banash: protesters say they don’t the army to enter their city, and say they want to topple the regime.
Damascus / Mouaddamiyyah: “death is better than humiliation” “the people want to topple them regime”
Damascus / Barzeh: a funeral for a protester