Wednesday, November 14, 2012

No Time to Waste!

The beliefs and leadership style of Mouaz al-Khateeb are likely to resonate with major segments of the population in Syria, including key figures in the country’s minority communities. Moreover, and as a respected cleric, he has a certain moral authority to occasionally challenge certain popular stands on issues and to advocate more pragmatic policies. But, without major backing from the international community to the Coalition, and through the Coalition to the rebels, Mouaz’s appeal and legitimacy will prove ephemeral. The priority for the Coalition at this stage should be to identify key defectors and rebel leaders that can be supported and to take control of all border checkpoints to ensure that distribution networks are not coopted by extremist elements. The sooner this is done the sooner members of the international community will be able to make a decision on backing the Coalition.

Tuesday November 13, 2012

Today’s Death Toll: 172. The Breakdown:  Toll includes 10 children and 12 women: 109 in Damascus and Suburbs (22 in Utaya Massacre), 20 in Idlib, 19 in Aleppo, 8 in Daraa, 6 in Homs, 5 in Deir Ezzor, 4 in Hama and 1 in Raqqah. Other Developments: The LCC also documented 217 points of random shelling by regime forces: 167 by artillery, 29 by mortar, 27 by missiles, 17 by fighter jets, and 5 by Thermobaric Bombs. Rebels clashed with regime loyalists in 143 points (LCC).

Syria: A Priority for New Opposition Group Curb, Condemn, Investigate and Punish Abuses by All Factions (Human Rights Watch)

Special Reports
At first glance, the brightness of the colors might just be enough to fool the casual viewer. But this abstract scene in "Play in the City" isn't a cheerful one. Pain infuses this painting.
In the Kurdish areas of Syria, the PKK controls the roads, has taken over government institutions and has a good hold on everyday life. It could be another 30 years before the PKK holds similar powers in Turkey. Now they have the opportunity to show the Kurds and the world that they are truly fighting for Kurdish rights… There are other Kurdish political parties and youth movements in Syria and they too have their ambitions. But if the PKK does not give these groups breathing space, if it bullies them, closes their offices or detains their members at checkpoints, then what is the guarantee that the PKK will run the Kurdish areas of Turkey any better in the future?
One of the few international aid agencies operating in Syria says that at least 2.5m people are now displaced within the country. The figure from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent more than doubles previous estimates. The United Nations refugee agency says that an additional 700,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries. Many risk their lives seeking sanctuary - in August, 60 people drowned making the journey from Syria to Europe when their boat overturned. One survivor, who did not want to be identified, has been recounting the tragedy to the BBC's Fergal Keane.
For the past 20 months, a barrage of footage from Syria’s catastrophic civil war has blasted out from activists inside the country, day after day, hour after hour, shot on mobile phones and uploaded to YouTube, unedited, unfiltered and intensely violent. Designed more to push hesitant world leaders into action than as an exercise in journalism, most of the pictures show dead or severely injured civilians and fighters, and are so gruesome that they are virtually unwatchable.
Western powers may have learned some painful lessons from their failed attempts to pick the leadership of a post-Saddam Iraq, but the dangers posed by a protracted civil war that has already spilled across Syria’s borders appears to have prompted a new willingness to roll the dice.
Syrian Volunteers Exhibit Their Humanity, Despite International Politicizing of Emergency Aid.
As the Assad regime's increasingly precarious military situation becomes irreversible, outside assistance could help deter Damascus from extreme escalation.
“When I ask myself what is the American national interest in Syria, it is certainly in our national interest that the support of the Shia in Lebanon via Syria be interrupted, and that Syria not become a base in the projection of Iranian power,” Mr. Kissinger said. “So from that point of view an Assad victory in the civil war would be against the American national interest. And from that point of view some arming of the rebels is desirable.”
Mouaz al-Khatib, a religious leader and a voice of moderation, has been chosen to lead the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition and Revolutionary Forces. Supporters hope the new coalition can provide a conduit for foreign aid.
Ammar Abdulhamid & Khawla Yusuf: The Shredded Tapestry: The State of Syria Today

While many are hailing new opposition leader, Mouaz Al-Khateeb’s moderate credentials, some are already questioning them. This is indeed a legitimate thing to do. But for a culture steeped in confessional prejudice, moderation does not mean complete lack of prejudice, but the ability to rise above it and advocate policies that can work for all communities. Mouaz might have made, at one point or another in the course of his public career, or even recently, statements that smack of anti-Semitism or confessional bias, but his entire public career so far has been a constant attempt to try to rise above prejudice and reach out to the other sides of the equation, while maintaining influence and relevance in his own camp. It is people like Mouaz who represent our hope for a better future at this particular juncture in our history. On account of his lingering prejudices, he still retains relevance in his own camp (Islamist and pragmatic Sunnis), and because of his sincere attempts to rise above these prejudices, he managed to gain respect and relevance in other camps as well (minority communities, especially Christians and Kurds). That’s what makes him a potentially unifying figure. Trying to fault Mouaz for making statements that reveals some of the prejudices that we all grew up with, while neglecting a long career of trying to reach out to the other sides, with some success as one can judge from the reaction of many minority figures to his election, is to engage in a zero-sum game. There is simply no strong and organized constituency for the unbiased leader at this stage, there is only the potential thereof. Transforming this potential into a reality will take decades. People like Mouaz will have to play a critical role in the transition process, if it is to be successful. 

(For those interested in historical comparisons and literature, Mouaz’s position is comparable to that of the Roman Prefect in Rudyard Kipling’s story The Church at Antioch. Since his main interest is to bring back order, his personal prejudices seem irrelevant).

Indeed, people like me, that is, people who, in some circles in the West, are often hailed as “moderates,” are actually far from it within the context of our prevailing social and political culture. We are indeed radicals. We have long made a radical departure from most if not all prevailing norms in our societies, to the point that we are now, and for the most part, politically irrelevant and unpopular. But, while our break from the prevailing culture did not stop us from understanding and explaining it, or even from contributing to the making of the revolution itself, we are not in a position to benefit politically from that, as evidenced by the ability of Islamist and leftist elements to completely marginalize us from all ongoing political processes at this stage, despite our stronger connections with western governments and international organizations. Nor will we be given credit anytime soon for our contributions to the revolutionary upheavals, and they are numerous despite the small size of our popular base. That’s why our activities at the Tharwa Foundation, for instance, were meant more to inspire imitation than acquire followers. That was the only way we could influence the processes on the ground.

And although some of us might make better technocrats than our political rivals, it’s highly unlikely that any of us will be entrusted with such positions. Ideology will continue to trump national interest in the political calculations of opposition groups for a long while to come. We are not going to get beyond ideology unless people like Mouaz are successful. Their task is a daunting one, and liberal democracy activists can only support from a distance. Personally, I have long become accustomed to this kind of arrangements.

Of note in this regard as well, are the observations made by my friend, Amr Al-Azm: “The Formation of Syria’s National Coalition: An Assessment and Analysis.”

Video Highlights

The pounding of Damascene suburbs continues: Saqba MiGs and Sukhoys take part in the action , Yalda was also targeted , And Kafar Batna (where the cameraman was almost killed when the bomb dropped next to his position)

These tanks seeing entering into the Tadamon neighborhood in Damascus City are believed to be recent imports from Russia. They are quite different from tanks that have been deployed before And the pounding begins

Sounds of clashes in Qaboun Neighborhood in Damascus City  

MiGs also targeted the suburbs of Moadamia and Daraya , in the western parts of Damascus. In Daraya, the bombardment kills the members of an entire family

The Kurdish-majority town of Ras-Al-Ain (Seri Kanye) on the borders with Turkey and which has recently been taken over by Islamist rebels have also been targeted by MiGs for the second straight day , , Locals are sent scurrying in all directions Locals collect the body parts of the victims Impact of the pounding

MiGs also targeted the town of Alboukamal, on the border with Iraq , ,