Arab Politics, My articles, Syria

Syria’s Defecting Bloggers

I’ve been a little obsessed with the changes in the Arab blogosphere over the past year, and the Syrian blogs are among the most interesting to me, perhaps because I’ve been reading several of these bloggers for years. The shift in perspective as a result of the uprising is remarkable. People like Robin Yassin-Kassab and Off the Wall (and their readers) are elaborating, dialectically, a new meaning of Arab liberalism.

Here are the first few paragraphs from my weekly piece for the New York Times global opinion page, which deals with this subject.

*

The images out of Syria this month are gut-wrenching. Two suicide bombers killed dozens of people in Damascus on Friday, an alarming ratcheting-up of the violence in a conflict that some fear is starting to look more like a civil war by the day.

Within hours of the attacks, TwitterFacebook and the Arab blogosphere were boiling over with claims and counterclaims. Some accepted the Syrian government’s statement that Friday’s bombers were affiliated with Al Qaeda; others, who are sympathetic to the opposition, want to see President Bashar al-Assad fall (see herehere and here).

This highly polarized response is symptomatic of a broader culture war that has recently emerged among Syria watchers. For the first decade of Assad’s presidency, most Syrian blogs I read were fairly supportive of the regime because of its commitment to the Palestinian cause and its opposition to the United States and Israel. But this year has changed everything. (keep reading)
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Discussion

241 thoughts on “Syria’s Defecting Bloggers

  1. Until the foreign news media will totally cut out their bigotry — until they will decide to commit themselves to objectivity and verifiability — anyone who believes their reports is a fool. This means I’m saying Qifa Nabki is a fool. E.g. last summer Qifa Nabki believed the news story that Syrian gunships were firing from the ocean onto a residential neighborhood in Latakia city, and not only that, but also he sneered at Hizbollah for waiting for a reliable confirmation of that news story. The story has now been well verified to be a falsehood based testimonies by the residents in the neighborhood, plus denials by the Syrian authorities, plus it was highly implausible to begin with because contrary to general security operational policies.

    Posted by Parviziyi | January 15, 2012, 5:06 am
  2. Bashar Assad said on 10 Jan 2012: “Why did we not allow the foreign media to enter Syria? In fact, during the first month or month and a half of the crisis, foreign media networks were completely free to move inside Syria. However, all the media fabrications, and the whole political and media campaign against Syria, were built on that [early] phase of fraud and distortion. There is a difference between, on the one hand, misrepresenting the truth and giving it credibility by presenting it from on the ground inside Syria, and, on the other hand, misrepresenting the truth from outside of Syria, where less credibility can be given to such misrepresentations. That is why we took a decision to close the door to many media networks, and to be selective in the access given to them.” sana.sy/eng/21/2012/01/11/393338.htm

    On 10 Jan 2012 the Syrian Ministry of Information announced that the Ministry issued entry and work licenses to more than 136 foreign news media organizations between 1 Dec 2011 and 9 Jan 2012. The announcement also said “The Ministry is keen on facilitating the work of foreign media institutions in presenting the real image of what is happening in Syria. Those media institutions are faced with a moral and professional challenge in relaying the Syrian scene in an objective way to their audiences.” sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/10/393367.htm . See also sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/12/393775.htm

    For months and months, the Syrian government had been pleading to the Arab League to send teams of Arabic security professionals to Syria to observe the reality in an objective way. The Russian foreign ministry had been pleading for that too, for months and months. On 30 dec 2011 the Russian Foreign Ministry reiterated its hope that members of the Arab League Observers Mission to Syria would reflect “professionalism and objectivity in their work”, and it noted that such work by the Observers was called for by Russia for many months through Russia’s contacts with all countries of the region, out of the necessity to have unbiased and objective information regarding the situation in Syria. sana.sy/eng/22/2011/12/30/391405.htm (also sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/22/390032.htm ). On 29 dec 2011 the Foreign Ministry of Syria reiterated that the Syrian government is absolutely committed to supporting the Arab League observer mission “so long as the intentions are good and the goal is to mirror the reality”. news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2011-12/30/c_131334312.htm . On 9 Jan 2012 the State-run Al-Thawra daily newspaper emphasized Syria’s keenness to fully cooperate with the Arab League observer mission “so long as the mission is playing an evenhanded, objective and honest role [as observers].” news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2012-01/09/c_131350870.htm . On 30 dec 2011 Mr. Qadri Jamil, who among other things is a member of the Committee that is re-writing the Syrian Constitution, said that “if the Arab League observers are neutral, they would help the Syrian people…. Otherwise, they could further complicate the situation.” news.xinhuanet.com/english/indepth/2011-12/30/c_131335731.htm

    Posted by Parviziyi | January 15, 2012, 5:08 am
  3. I’d love to become a citizen of this Syria that you speak of, Parviziyi. It sounds amazing.

    Posted by Jonathan | January 15, 2012, 6:43 am
  4. Parviziyi

    You are a one man propaganda machine. Keep up the good work.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | January 15, 2012, 7:42 am
  5. @ Jonathan: Yes, and they also have great music and great food. Some scrumptious looking females. Mild sunny weather. Do it, dude.

    I’m well aware that a lot of people outside Syria don’t hold the broad culture and society of the Syrians in as good esteem as I do. But let me make a comment about pure, pure politics. Suppose a Syrian political candidate goes to the Syrians and says “Our culture is lousy. We need a big revamp. Until we admit honestly to the failings of our nation state and our culture, we cannot develop solutions…. Our mass information media is so bad that only simpletons could believe it.” Politically that sort of message is dead on arrival because of its negativity. Most Syrians love Syria and are proud of being Syrian, and they want to buy into political messages that reaffirm their pride, and complementarily they don’t want to buy into the negativity of the dissidents. No matter whether the negativity is smart and well-informed in your own judgement, it’s a loser politically. Criticisms aimed at the general culture are dead on arrival politically in other Middle Easten countries and in Western countries too. Electorates want positive, constructive themes. “It is a great honor to raise the flag of my sacred homeland in gratitude of all it has offered us.” — that’s a message that sells well, worldwide. The Syrian dissidents are in a Catch-22 over this because the homeland that the Syrians conceive of, identify with, and take pride in, is the one defined, developed and nurtured by the regime over four decades (#11 of my 22 points). Here’s how one bigoted British journalist in Damascus put it on 18 Jul 2011: “The regime still appears to have support…. The problem [that the regime has support] runs deep, some say, with an entire generation effectively brainwashed by 40 years of Assad rule.” http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/062fd59c-b124-11e0-a43e-00144feab49a.html

    Posted by Parviziyi | January 15, 2012, 9:11 am
  6. Parviziyi

    What is not positive and constructive about revolutionary rhetoric? The opposition has leveraged the same themes that the regime relies on: Syrian pride and dignity, the corruption and moral depravity of their opponents, etc.

    Listen carefully to the rhetoric of the candidates in the US Republican presidential primaries… They are constantly pointing out the supposed failures of the Obama administration, while touting their own unique vision to restore American pride, prosperity, etc.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | January 15, 2012, 9:29 am
  7. Parviziyi makes me nostalgic about HK!!! :D

    Posted by danny | January 15, 2012, 11:00 am
  8. Parviziyi,

    “If you want to understand Syria you must do the work. If you trust yourself to the goddamn newspapers you’re a goddamned fool.”

    Ya habibi, my information on Syria is from much more than media. This is why I am so adamant in calling your bluff, and keep on talking about the viable opposition, torture existing in Syria and basically badmouthing the regime as it does not stand for the principals I believe in, and nor do I see it able to reform itself in that direction. Hard work on my part has brought me to where I am now. True reforms in the direction towards the principals I hold dear (liberal democracy – which of course can be detailed much more) can not be done by Assad and his goons. They would reform themselves away rather quickly, which is why everything that Assad and his goons do should be seen in the light of them wanting to retain power. At best I see it drifting toward something akin to Russia, where an Assad and a Makhlouf (or some other hotshot) hold on to power in an autocratic way. And I don’t give much for Russia.

    Bashar Assad is dividing Syria quite well. The Baath has been taking Syria down a slippery slope for a long time. The Baath has not been able to develop Syria. Syria is underdeveloped thanks to the Baath. But again, you choose to see good evidence as humbug. Your loss, and by extension, Syria’s loss.

    Posted by Pas Cool | January 15, 2012, 11:29 am
  9. Qifa Nabki says “What is not positive and constructive about revolutionary rhetoric?”

    The dissidents have very little rhetoric that’s richer than “down with the regime”. I admit I don’t seek out and read dissident rhetoric anymore. Mabye something richer than “down with the regime” has been output by somebody somewhere on the Internet. But a very impoverished and negative “down with the regime” is by far, by far, the main theme (see e.g. the last paragraph at #83). It’s very impoverished because they don’t even explain why they want “down with the regime”. Here’s an example from a dissident website which I kept from last summer (it’s still saying the same today):

    “The Building the Syrian State movement believes that the current regime is finished historicaly and we refuse the option of reforming this regime because this would only mean to perpetuate and strengthen it. This is why it is necessary to take all the political measures to dismantle and eliminate this regime in order to build a civil and democratic state on its ruins. The Building the Syrian State movement is not just a temporary coalition coinciding with the current political conflict for removing the tyrannical regime and moving to a democratic state; rather, it will work to build a new Syria where everyone is a winner with no losers. http://binaa-syria.com/B/en/content/about-current . There is no hope that the present authority might take any political step or initiative to allow fair political competition. http://binaa-syria.com/B/en/content/national-solution-proposed-discussion-building-syrian-state-current

    Sometime this year, maybe June, Syria is going to have fair parliamentary elections (religious and tribal parties banned). In the competitive elections, the dissident politicians are going to get their arses handed to them on plates.

    As you know the regime denies the “depravity allegations” such as the torture and the shooting a peaceful protesters. Set aside that stuff that the regime denies, and look only at the rest, which is all the stuff that the regime does not deny. The regime has got a five, ten, twenty and forty year record, and besides its record it’s got a forward development agenda going forward from now. What in all of that do the dissidents attack? Where’s their positive and constructive “revolution”? They don’t have one. I refer you to what I said in the third paragraph at #78 and the second half of the last paragraph at #196. As I put it, there was a wave of popular and reasonable desire for more democracy this past year and the dissident elements were trying to “ride the wave” to try to overthrow the regime. The regime is now instituting full fledged democracy. Hence the dissidents have to pick other things to rail about. What things? The nearly complete answer: depravity allegations. Qifa Nabki says “What is not positive and constructive about revolutionary rhetoric?” Short answer: What is not positive and constructive about depravity allegations?

    Pas Cool says: “Syria is underdeveloped thanks to the Baath.

    I don’t hear the dissidents making that argument and I don’t hear the dissidents with any interesting policy proposals that are different from the Baath’s. Again I refer you to the third paragraph at #78 and the second half of the last paragraph at #196. I said at #86 “if the dissidents did have a good new idea, the regime would appropriate the idea in a heartbeat.” — that’s one of the reasons why the Baath party is strong competitor. The Baath is not blind or stupid, in my opinion.

    Posted by Parviziyi | January 15, 2012, 3:42 pm
  10. Parviziyi,

    I love Syria and I’d be very happy to live and work there. My point is the Syria you speak of exists only in political rhetoric and nationalist myth-making. What politicians and nationalists say about their own country must always be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism, and all the more so in cases where there are actually laws against expressing such skepticism because it might “weaken national sentiment” or “debilitate the morale of the nation”. In such cases public speech empties out entirely, becoming just a dead shell.

    BTW, did you notice the irony in the second last sentence of your previous post (“the Baath party is strong competitor”). What a strange way to talk about a political party that has Constitutionally disallowed any competition. Frankly, it’s embarrassing to here you speak of the popularity of the regime and its future success in elections, when the essence of the uprising has been the regime’s refusal to test its legitimacy at the ballot box. I’m not questioning Assad’s relative popularity, but if what you say is true and the majority of Syrians support Assad then isn’t it even worse that those who expressed dissent were shot at? For a party to run for election just months after shooting some who expressed their opinions seems in very poor taste. (I guess I may be wasting my time since no doubt you believe that every single dead protester was a “terrorist”.)

    Posted by Jonathan | January 15, 2012, 6:11 pm
  11. @ Jonathan: I’m personally not a nationalist or patriot of any jurisdiction; I don’t have a “homeland” and I don’t want one. What I was saying is that the generality of people in Syria are nationalistic and it’s politically potent. (Arabs are nationalistic in each Arab country).

    Jonathan thinks “the essence of the uprising has been the regime’s refusal to test its legitimacy at the ballot box.” I indicated disagreement with that when I talked about “riding the wave”. Bashar disagrees too; see the quote from Bashar at #172. The essence of the uprising is the first sentence in the statement of the goals of the SNC quoted at #83.

    Posted by Parviziyi | January 15, 2012, 8:05 pm
  12. The quote from Bashar is at #170 not #172. Sorry, my numbering was off by +2 because my local view had two posts awaiting moderation. An earlier reference to #196 should’ve been #194.

    Posted by Parviziyi | January 15, 2012, 8:18 pm
  13. GK,

    It seems that the expectations that the Assad regime will fall quickly may not materialize. What seems more probable is an extended civil war that may take years–and thus neither GA nor HA would be immediately affected. If the concerted efforts to bring down the Assad regime will not succeed within the next few months, a protracted civil war, similar to the 1975-1978 Lebanese civil war may ensue, and Lebanon will be drawn into supporting the various elements, with the Lebanese government of Aoun/HA supporting the regime while the opposition will support the insurgents. Regionally, KSA and Turkey, along with Qatar and other Arab League nations would side with insurgents while Iran, strangely enough, would have to start working covertly, as would Israel, in supporting Assad. That is why what transpires in the US and with the Israeli_Iranian tensions will be significant for the survival of Assad/Baath rule. If the.civil war scenario plays out, Israel will have no choice but to support, covertly as it did supper Iran during the Iraq-Iran war, Syrian Baath elements, but Iran can effectively pull its support of the Baath, and that would change Lebanese alliances. Maybe this scenario is far fetched, but IF indeed this becomes a protrqcted civil war, alliances will determine the length and outcome of the war.

    Parviziyi,

    Your propaganda could be better used elsewhere. You got skills, but most people on this blog are not questioning or arguing about whether Assad’s government is right or if it is in the wrong. You need a different audience. For your information, it is a shame that the Syrian people have to pay the price of the regime’s crimes and colonial aspirations via internal warfare, but most Lebanese would look at this situation as “payback” for the decades of the Assads manipulating the internal politics of Lebanon. These manipulations culminated in the assassinations of 2004-2006, and today’s events were supposed to be the payback of the regime. The Syrian people should not be the colateral damage for the failure of the Syrian intelligence wars.

    Posted by Parrhesia | January 15, 2012, 9:29 pm
  14. Parviziyi,
    It may surprise you to hear that I don’t place much stock in Bashar’s public statement about the uprising, so quoting him on what the uprising is really about is pretty worthless. A dictator who inherited his position from his father is pretty low down on my people-with-credibility scale.

    The SNC statement you cited sits pretty well with my claim that the uprising has Syria’s “democracy deficit” at its core.

    Posted by Jonathan | January 16, 2012, 7:11 am
  15. I leave for a week of well-deserved vacation in the sun and come back to….exactly where we were a week ago…
    Still arguing about the “facts” in Syria, and whether the regime is popular and misunderstood, or the victim of terrorist groups…

    carry on…

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | January 16, 2012, 1:09 pm
  16. While people were dying in Syria, you thought you actually had a well-deserved vacation in the sun :).

    BV… you should have been here fighting your counter-Jihad instead of basking in the sun!

    Posted by Gabriel | January 16, 2012, 2:31 pm
  17. “Syria is exposed to a misleading foreign media campaign that broadcasts fabricated news, ignores facts and has had a blackout on the martyrdom of more than 700 members of Syrian law enforcement.” — that’s dated 23 Sep 2011. http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/09/24/371191.htm

    “Relatives of the martyrs expressed confidence that the Syrian people are able to overcome the current crisis through their adherence to the spirit of national unity.”

    16 jan 2012. 5 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/16/394596.htm

    15 jan 2012. 6 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/16/394336.htm

    14 jan 2012. 17 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/14/394184.htm

    13 Jan 2012 (Friday). No record.

    12 jan 2012. 14 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/12/393797.htm

    11 jan 2012. 5 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/11/393596.htm

    10 jan 2012. 12 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/11/393434.htm

    9 jan 2012. 7 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/09/393253.htm

    8 jan 2012. 6 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/08/392995.htm

    7 jan 2012. 7 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/07/392763.htm

    6 jan 2012 (Friday). 6 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/06/392653.htm

    5 jan 2011. 5 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/05/392454.htm

    4 jan 2012. 2 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/04/392226.htm

    3 jan 2012. 3 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/03/391972.htm

    2 jan 2012. 11 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2012/01/02/391798.htm

    1 jan 2012. 1 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/21/2012/01/01/391683.htm

    31 dec 2011. 21 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/31/391567.htm

    30 dec 2011 (Friday). No record.

    29 dec 2011. 6 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/29/391233.htm

    28 dec 2011. 9 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/28/391091.htm

    27 dec 2011. 8 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/27/390866.htm

    26 dec 2011. 9 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/26/390604.htm

    25 dec 2011. 14 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/25/390480.htm

    24 dec 2011. 7 dead soliders and police men were buried (killed in Homs and Idlib).

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/24/390282.htm

    23 dec 2011 (Friday). No record.

    22 dec 2011. 2 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/33/2011/12/22/389978.htm

    21 dec 2011. 6 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/21/389728.htm

    20 dec 2011. 12 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/20/389526.htm

    19 dec 2011. 9 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/19/389222.htm

    18 dec 2011. 7 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/21/2011/12/18/389010.htm

    17 dec 2011. 8 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/17/388806.htm

    16 dec 2011 (Friday). No record.

    15 dec 2011. 11 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/16/388479.htm

    14 dec 2011. 7 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/14/388202.htm

    13 dec 2011. 17 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/14/387970.htm

    12 dec 2011. 7 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/12/387712.htm

    11 dec 2011. 13 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/11/387519.htm

    10 dec 2011. 3 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/11/387301.htm

    9 dec 2011 (Friday). No record.

    8 dec 2011. 5 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/08/386891.htm

    7 dec 2100. 5 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/07/386626.htm

    6 dec 2011. 7 dead soliders and police men were buried (Tuesday not Monday).

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/06/386432.htm

    5 dec 2011. 11 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/05/386130.htm

    4 dec 2011. 7 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/04/385963.htm

    3 dec 2011. 13 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/03/385723.htm

    2 dec 2011 (Friday). No record.

    1 dec 2011. 3 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/01/385342.htm

    30 nov 2011. 7 dead soliders and police men were buried (Wednesday not Tuesday).

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/12/01/385097.htm

    29 nov 2011. 14 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/11/29/384861.htm

    28 nov 2011. 15 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/11/28/384664.htm

    27 nov 2011. 9 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/11/28/384425.htm

    26 nov 2011. 25 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/11/26/384239.htm

    25 nov 2011 (Friday). No record.

    24 nov 2011. 12 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/11/24/383857.htm

    23 nov 2011. 9 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/11/23/383536.htm

    22 nov 2011. 8 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/11/22/383279.htm

    21 nov 2011. 6 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/11/22/383006.htm

    20 nov 2011. 16 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/11/20/382793.htm

    19 nov 2011. 4 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/11/20/382599.htm

    18 nov 2011 (Friday). No record.

    17 nov 2011. 7 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/11/18/382187.htm

    16 nov 2011. 11 dead soliders and police men were buried.

    http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/11/17/381988.htm

    “In the dissidents’ quest to gain the assistance of outsiders, military clashes and bloodshed play an essential role. Without mayhem, the attention of outsiders turns to other subjects.”

    On 16 nov 2011 a USA foreign ministry spokesperson in Washington said that the violence committed by the Syrian opposition elements against the Syrian government serves the interests of the Syrian government. That is one sick and perverted foreign ministry.

    Posted by Parviziyi | January 16, 2012, 7:02 pm
  18. You are formidable… Do you read anything besides state media?

    If someone were to document every news report (verified by the UN or Amnesty or some other watchdog organization) of the deaths of oppositionists, it would be about 10 times as long as yours.

    But you would disregard it, of course, as nothing but malicious nonsense.

    Intellectual honesty, please.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | January 16, 2012, 7:23 pm
  19. I could probably point to another sick and perverted government in this story….

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | January 16, 2012, 7:23 pm
  20. Parviziyi,
    I have a simple question which requires a simple answer. Please do not use any round about logic and any answer that requires more than a 100 words or so.
    Why is the whole world all of a sudden interested in subverting the Syrian establishment? If the Syrian regime was so objectionable to them why did they not press that button to create this upheaval ten years ago? Are you serious when you suggest that there is no discontent in Syria? You make it sound that a brutal dictatorship is a state of bliss.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | January 16, 2012, 8:38 pm
  21. ooooh! ooooh! oooooh! I know the answer! I do. I do.

    Posted by dontgetit | January 16, 2012, 10:36 pm
  22. Oh no you don’t.

    Posted by lally | January 17, 2012, 12:33 am
  23. Gk..

    the flip side of the question is just a applicable
    Is it not?

    Why is the upheaval happening now, and not 10 out or 20 years ago.

    Posted by Gabriel | January 17, 2012, 1:49 am
  24. Gabriel,
    I beg to differ. The uprising/revolution is taking place right now because our part of the world is arguably one of the last parts that has failed to confront its dictators and exploiters. It is about time that we develop enough courage to say that we have had enough. That is one simple issue that many fail to understand. This is not about money, neither is it about material standards of living. It is simply about dignity and human rights. That is the major reason that the Soviet Union fell apart and it is the major reason for the movements in the Arab world over the past year. We have not seen the end of it yet. This movement towrds human dignity and personal freedom will not end until Saudi Arabia starts becoming more of a constitutional monarchy. To put it bluntly history does not move backward it always unfolds by creating a forward looking synthesis. Why didn’t this happen earlier? The only answer is that the citizens were not ready, they were still willing to put up with false promises.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | January 17, 2012, 2:00 am
  25. QN

    Intellectual honesty, please.

    اذا أردت اتطاع فاطلب المستطاع

    Posted by OFF THE WALL | January 17, 2012, 6:13 am
  26. GK:

    I hate to be the one playing Devil’s advocate, or the one who seemingly is rushing to the current chief propagandist’s defence.. But that is not an answer. North Korea is living under dictatorship. Iran is living under a quasi-dictatorship. They haven’t flipped yet.

    Saudi Arabia?

    How can you say this is not about money, but about dignity and rights.

    I think the equation is a little more complex.

    So our part of the world is the last area where these upheavals are happening. That does not explain why it is happening now.

    All this is to say I hardly think the question you posed to Parviziyi is a fair one. Sure it is conceivable that after Egypt turned upside down, and North Africa turned upside down, that “Israel” would like to re-write the equation on the Syrian front. Sometimes turmoil is good.

    Sure it is conceivable that not 3 years ago, the Sheikhs of the Gulf Arab world were looking mighty silly in front of public opinion (Erdogan, HA and Iran in contrast looking like heroes). Is it so unlikely that the Gulfies, smacked around to date by Syria on local issues have decided that enough is enough?

    Are these scenarios so implausible. That we should all say that everything is happening is about Dignity and Human Rights. That sometimes there really is not a hidden hand behind it all that helps move things along a certain way?

    Posted by Gabriel | January 17, 2012, 1:17 pm
  27. Gabriel, GK,

    Asking about the timeline (why is this happening now vs. 10 years ago) is a bit moot. Things don’t always happen because of a specific timing or date. This isn’t Christmas or a major holiday.
    Things have a way of progressing naturally until they reach a critical mass and tipping point. Different places/people have different “rates of growth” (to coin a phrase). External factors and the environment are one contributing factor, but there is no specific answer to a question of why now. Why did the USSR collapse in 91 and not 75? Why did the 1930s bring forth a rise in fascim (but not the 1910s). etc.
    It is often a big mix of countless factors.
    It’s the same reason why a given youth will “mature” sooner than another. Family environment, education, genetics, upbringing, all play a role. There is not one specific factor.

    As GK pointed out, Eastern europe reached it’s critical mass in the late 80s. The arab world is reaching its tipping point in 2011-2012. I have no idea when said tipping point will reach North Korea. But it probably will sometime.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | January 17, 2012, 1:46 pm
  28. Gabriel/BV
    I am glad BV is back since he does not believe that Revolutions take place by pressing a button. That is why my question is more than fair and why your response is very peripheral:-)
    Revolutions/uprisings take place when the public cannot put up with the staus quo anylonger. There is no way of ever predicting what wets things off. Why does an employee work at one place for twenty years and then decides to resign? Why would a couple decide over diner that they are going to split…. In the case of Syria, the Syrian people have put upo with the Baath for over foty years. They have been exploited, lied to and their personal rights violated. They were living in fear but once they saw that popular uprisings by people close to them can succeed and once the fear factor was shed then they decided to take a stand. It did not happen because someone in DC or Paris decided that it is time for a revolution in Syria. That is asinine. You can bet that at some point each and every dictatorship will face an uprising. That is true of KSA, the Emirates, N. korea…
    Lebanon is a country that is very badly in need of a revolution, a paradigm shift but in the case of Lebanon the relative freedom and relative democracy make a violent uprising unnecessary. We can have a major revolution, a transformation of society through the ballot box. Socities are work in progress and so they have to allow for change , it is only dictatorships that are rigid and fixed since they do not trust the citizens. Rulers cannot and must not rule without the consent of the governed. It is as simple as that.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | January 17, 2012, 4:33 pm
  29. Well said, Ghassan.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | January 17, 2012, 5:05 pm
  30. The following is my summary and commentary on a news report at SANA today (http://www.sana.sy/eng/22/2012/01/17/394933.htm ).

    The Arab League observer mission is organized into six teams. The teams on Tuesday continued their tours of a number of Syrian governorates.

    A team of observers in Damascus met the Mufti of Damascus, sheikh Al-Bari, who is hard-core pro-regime, and they also met with hard-core pro-regime Christian clergymen.

    Another team of observers visited Aleppo and met industrialists, citizens, and families of martyrs killed by armed terrorist groups. You can’t get more hard-core pro-regime than that. Aleppo industrialists are at least as hard-core as the relatives of terrorist victims.

    Another observer team met representatives of civil and charity organizations in Tartous governorate. All civic leaders in Tartous governorate are hard-core pro-regime. Tartous is the tippy top most pro-regime governorate in Syria.

    Another team attended the release of arrested men in Daraa governorate. They also visited the Governorate Building (which was damaged by terrorists, I believe, and the damage is intentionally unrepaired — at least that’s true of some government building in Daraa city).

    Another team visited the eastern regions and Daher al-Jabal area in Sweida governorate, where they met families of martyrs. That’s Druze country. All pro-regime. The martyrs were killed by terrorists.

    Another team was in Raqqa, where they visited the National Hospital, the Penal Security Department, and the Central Prison and met some arrested individuals and people released by the recent amnesty decree, in addition to meeting Muslim and Christian clergymen, relatives of martyrs, and touring neighborhoods and streets. Raqqa city has had only tiny Friday protests against the regime all year and practically none for the last five months — see http://www.onsyria.com/?parent=1&page=1 . I’m surprised the Arab League observers were able to find in Raqqa anybody at all who was released under the most recent amnesty decree. I’m certain that the Muslim clergymen in Raqqa they met are as pro-regime as I am.

    In short, these observer teams are in the midst of finding out the truth that most Syrians want the continuation of the same good government.

    Posted by Parviziyi | January 17, 2012, 5:37 pm
  31. Ghassan Karam asks: “Why is the whole world all of a sudden interested in subverting the Syrian establishment?”

    The foreigners were antagonistic or predisposed to antagonism beforehand. I spoke about the dissidents inside the country trying to “ride the wave”. The anti-Syrian foreigners have been trying to “ride the wave” also, to promote their foreign values and their foreign antagonism. Walid Al-Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister, put it this way on 27 Sep 2011: “The country needs the people-driven political, economic and social reforms…. On the other hand, popular demands and claims have been manipulated to further objectives [isqat al-nizam] which are alien to the interests and express desires of the Syrian people. These demands were the stepping stone used by armed groups to sow discord and sabotage our security. They became a new pretext for foreign interventions” or manipulations. http://www.sana.sy/eng/337/2011/09/27/371804.htm

    Why were the foreigners antagonistic to the Syrian government? According to statements by the Syrian foreign ministry, the answer is to be found in no small part in Syria’s foreign policies. I disagree with that answer. Hafez Assad thought that Syria was a victim of foreign conspiracies, particularly American-Israeli conspiracies against Syria, and Bashar thinks the same. I largely disagree, because Syria’s foreign policy positions are not much different from those of the approx 150 sovereign nations who support the two-state solution for Israel/Palestine and the return of the Jolan Heights to Syrian jurisdiction. Syria’s foreign policies have some distinctive flavour. Of course Syria gives greater moral support to the Palestinians than anybody else does. But I cannot see the distinctiveness as major. So I receive Syrian talk about the “Resistance” as mostly empty rhetoric, if by “Resistance” is meant a simple reference to foreign policies.

    The talk about an internal social and cultural resistance against certain aspects of Western influence is not empty of substance. It is something that the Syrians have power to exercise resistance over. “We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of Westernizing and dividing, and ideological and cultural fields are the focal areas of their long-term infiltration…. We should deeply understand the seriousness and complexity of the ideological struggle, always sound the alarms and remain vigilant, and take forceful measures to be on guard and respond.” So said China’s President Hu Jin-tao on 2 jan 2012 (ref) and he was talking about China, but the same could be said by any Syrian whose human values impel him to resistance against aspects of Western hegemony. You can be very confident today that if China has an anti-Establishment uprising at any time in the future, no matter what the character of the uprising may be, no matter whether the dissidents are low-life benighted twerps who are incapable of creating anything more than social disintegration, the Western public opinion will be arrogantly supporting the uprising, and the Western news media’s reporting will be biased likewise.

    So anyway the question is why are the foreigners antagonistic to the honest, virtuous and (mostly) intelligent Assad regime? Why do they not see that it is honest, virtuous and (mostly) intelligent? What are the conceptual foundations of their bigotry? Here’s a short and simple answer I recently got from an ordinary Westerner who knows practically nothing about Syria. “A regime’s refusal to test its legitimacy at the ballot box means the regime is not virtuous fullstop. Which necessarily means the sundry opponents of the regime are virtuous. A person who is deemed to be not virtuous shouldn’t be presumed to be telling the truth, while a person who is deemed to be virtuous should be presumed to be telling the truth.” One of the problems with that short and simple answer is that after the regime’s legitimacy is affirmed at the ballot box during the upcoming months of this year, the foreigners are going to stay bigoted. Even if they are forced to accept that the election was won completely fairly (which is a big “if”) it’s not going to cure them of their bigotry.

    Posted by Parviziyi | January 17, 2012, 5:39 pm
  32. “So anyway the question is why are the foreigners antagonistic to the honest, virtuous and (mostly) intelligent Assad regime? Why do they not see that it is honest, virtuous and (mostly) intelligent?”

    These bloody foreigners….what would they know!

    Posted by Maverick | January 17, 2012, 6:12 pm
  33. GK#228

    But this revolution in Syria did not take place with the push of a button.

    It has been going on and building up for a year, and continuing!

    The equation is not as simple as you are laying it out to be.

    Posted by Gabriel | January 17, 2012, 6:48 pm
  34. Gabriel,
    I think that we are saying the same thing :-) I am saying that the uprising did not start at the push of a button as Heikal and Parviziyi would like to claim. It has a momentum all its own because this was the time when many felt that they could challenge the system and also that they are fed up and will not take it any longer. They have lost the fear element. When does this happen ? it is impossible to tell but we know that at some point it will. That is why , for years, I have been posting about “when would the Arab wall fall down?” Well it did and I am glad that it did. On a personal note I think that a lot of credit is owed to Tunis, they showed that mass protest could drive a dictator away. But to prove that Tunis was not an exception the brave young secular Egyptians showed that Tunis could be replicated. Ad to that Yemen an Libya and many in Stria felt that this was the time to take a stand. It is unfortunate that we have a Saudi Arabia in the Arab World, they killed the Bahraini aspirations and would have preferred not to have an Arab spring.This is a major point against March 14 in Lebanon. They cannot claim to be for freedom and democracy when they are at the same time backed up by Saudi Arabia, the only absolute monarchy next to the Vatican that is left in the world.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | January 17, 2012, 7:53 pm
  35. Gabriel and Ghassan, you 2 are saying the same thing…

    I think only the paranoid types ala Parviziyi are claiming that this revolution is started at the push of a button in Washington or somesuch.

    The questions are rhetorical. Revolutions do not start at the push of a button. There is no “Foreigners suddenly decided to implement a plan, starting today”.

    Peoples, their aspirations and their will to stand up for themselves, are a very organic thing. These things flow on their own.
    Sure they are influenced by their environment. It’s hard to imagine the Syrian revolution coming about without the Tunisia and Egypt having set the stage for it. Just like it is hard to imagine the popularity of fascism in post WW1 Europe, had WW1 and the great depression not set the stage for it. But in the end, these things tend to “happen” as if of their own mind and will. They are like collective entities that become greater than any individual element that shaped them or set the stage for their ascent.

    Just like communism, and fascism before it, eventually became clear failures to those very people who lived them, so are Arab Nationalism and arab dictatorships.

    The next thing people are looking to now is Islamism. And that too will eventually crumble and fall. But that’s an entirely different story.
    The Arab world still has a couple more “phases” to go through before reaching secularism.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | January 17, 2012, 8:43 pm
  36. BV:

    I believe the theory posited by Parviziyi is that there is no revolution going on at all in Syria… only a handful of terrorists running amok killing good Syrians.

    Posted by Gabriel | January 17, 2012, 9:08 pm
  37. Right…

    “These aren’t the droids your looking for”

    Works like a charm.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | January 17, 2012, 9:20 pm
  38. GK,

    I respectfully disagree with your assessment of revolutions as spontaneous uprisings. There are always complex conditions, as explicated by Gabriel, but theories of revolutions always include planning, organization, and purposeful participation in changing existing political forms of government and or creating new forms of living. You are.familiar with Arendt who takes about the revolutionary spirit as something that builds up on the spontaneous experience of being together and creating a space off freedom, but she also defines a revolution as the creation of a new or novel way of governing oneself, driven by the experience of freedom and towards the establishment of a public space of political participation. Most other theorists of modern revolutions also agree that the spontaneous needs to be directed towards a goal: Arendt believes that once the party or the state takes over the goal setting, the revolution ends– because the revolutionary spirit and the popular participation ends. But pragmatic theorists believe that a revolution needs to be led by a movement (if not a vanguard) which changes the dominant culture (not only the culture of freedom, discussion, and debate of opinions as magined by Arendt). Such a change necessitate ideological, social, economic, etc., transformations. These social changes can and are typically planned and organized by revolutionaries, sometime local and other times via external forces. France not only assisted the American revolution militarily but also culturally and economically, and t. he Madisons, Jeffersons, Paines and others provided the ideas for change set in the declaration. Some of these ideas can be provided externally by a small group of revolutionaries (the “German” based internationalists who were outsiders, or involved in the Internationale, led a clueless Russian populace in 1917).

    So it is not asinine to believe that external interventions contribute to internal combustion mechanisms, and that sometime pushing a button can have revolutionary effects. Imam Khomeini acted from France, providing ideas and fire for what eventually emerged as an uprising which was and needes to be guided by ideas.

    While somewhat infantile, V for Vendetta provides the outlines of what a revolution necessitate: the film depicts how popular discontent and even uprising only becomes revolutionary with ideas, plans, and interventions that some may construe as coincidences but are typically contingencies becoming necessity by giving them meaning, value, and affects that can become shared or common. It is a film, true, but it does encapsulate revolutionary theory. I do not buy your argument that votes can create a revolution; reform or even liberation are NOT revolutions.

    Posted by Parrhesia | January 18, 2012, 12:36 am
  39. Parrehsia,
    Your post does require a lengthier post but since I am not in a position to devote the time for it let me simply say that revolutions are spontaneous and not spontaneous at the same time. There are forces at work that prepare the appropriate conditions for a revolution but then once the water is tested the actual uprising does become spontaneous. In the case of Syria the forces for an uprising have been thre and they have been coalescing for almost half a century but then the Arab Spring that started in Tunis and then moved to Egypt and Lybia offered the last required enccouragement to take action. I also believe that the UNSC resolution on Lybia played a major role in making the potential rebels feel safe against a major crack down by the brutal regime in Damascus.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | January 18, 2012, 12:42 pm
  40. Almost Freudian,

    The spontaneity of an Intifada is the spark that ignites a mass movement, but beneath the tip of the iceberg lays years of suppression.

    In the case of the Arab Spring Revolutions, the self emulation of Mohammad Bouazizi, was the spark, {all puns intended} that led to the ouster of Ben Ali. When the impossible became possible, the Arab street rose and vented their decades of suppressed feelings.
    Syria is just another example. Baath oppression and totalitarian control led to decades of suppression. The Syrian people inspired by recent events among their brothers in the region, saw the perfect opportunity to vent their frustration.
    So, like Ghassan said revolutions are spontaneous and not spontaneous at the same time.
    But of all the talk of external influences, this is null, for these revolutions are one and the same, they are many only because we have Nation-states, but the revolution is one, and it is the result of deep personal anxieties caused by decades of suppression at the hands of those who promised to protect the very people they oppressed. It is a rebellion against the old order, a rebellion against the lies and false myths, a rebellion against regression and the hopelessness. This is Egocide on a mass scale, and I dont think the regimes ruling the masses or the external foreign powers saw this coming.

    Posted by Maverick | January 18, 2012, 5:29 pm

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