Camille Otrakji and Elias Muhanna Talk Syria at (Part II)

I recorded another segment with Camille Otrakji for Bloggingheads about Syria. Some of you may remember the first conversation we had last year, and the interview I did with Camille (which generated 724 comments). In this discussion, we look at the deepening conflict and what — if anything — can be done to bring the violence to a halt and usher in some kind of transition to a new system of government in Syria.

I’m sure Camille will join the conversation if people want to leave comments below on the interview. I tried to keep my personal views about the conflict to a minimum, so as to give Camille the chance to represent the views of Syrians who are pro-regime for one reason or another. This is a view that we don’t tend to hear much about in the press, and I know that it is not popular with most of my readership, but that’s the whole point of debate. While Camille and I disagree about much of what this conflict is about and how to solve it (just as we do about music, vintage cars, and Lebanese politics), I think his perspective is important.

For a vastly different view of the conflict, check out the video of Samar Yazbek’s recent visit to Brown University (where I now teach). And sorry for the hiatus from the blog. I’m just getting my head above water again after starting the new semester here. Much to talk about…


242 thoughts on “Camille Otrakji and Elias Muhanna Talk Syria at (Part II)

  1. Vulcan,

    The “feud” means we are going to have elections soon in Israel. Bibi is shoring up Barak’s leftist credentials in the hope that Barak can get some seats at the expense of his former party, the Labor party. Its a win-win for both.

    Posted by AIG | October 6, 2012, 5:42 pm
  2. AIG.

    So cynical! It appears that there is agreement that this bibi/barak kerfuffle is an electoral stunt. Could Barak have thought it up himself?

    The question becomes whether or not it will work.

    A Palace.

    Shame on you for neglecting to set the record straight! You aren’t Israeli but are instead a proud Jewish American Israel Firster. Nothing wrong with that as Diaspora Israel Firsters out-Israel real Israelis all the time.

    Posted by lally | October 6, 2012, 7:18 pm
  3. “FPM closed its forum yesterday.
    Any ideas why?”

    it had been rancid for a long time. They are trying to shore up whatever they have left before elections. The forum was a disgrace…I am amused that you fit in! 😀

    Posted by danny | October 6, 2012, 8:18 pm
  4. Danny,
    I was banned from the FPM forum years ago. I go there every once in a while because it provides an unfiltered view of the FPM rank and file true feelings.
    I suspect that the site was closed down because they could not handle anymore the public airing of the severe disagreements within the FPM especially regarding to support of Hezbollah. I was wondering how they would handle the discussion over Hezbollah members dying in Syria and found out instead that they closed the forum.
    Whatever you think of their views, the forum provided a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of FPM and Hezbollah supporters and I will miss it.

    Posted by AIG | October 7, 2012, 11:42 am
  5. AIG. The Orange room is back………

    Posted by lally | October 7, 2012, 12:00 pm
  6. lally,

    They did not want to disappoint AIG. 😛

    Posted by danny | October 7, 2012, 1:29 pm
  7. Danny. Hopefully, they’ll discuss his latest topic of interest. ;~{)

    Posted by lally | October 7, 2012, 2:37 pm
  8. You see, I have Aoun’s ear…
    Isn’t this proof that FPM are Zionist stooges?

    Posted by AIG | October 7, 2012, 3:38 pm
  9. AIG…Perfectly labelled! they are stooges and zionists! 😀

    Posted by danny | October 7, 2012, 3:50 pm
  10. In my book, a legitimate concern for a potential problem is a lame excuse for giving in to a present one.

    Posted by Badr | October 8, 2012, 3:40 am
  11. Freedom Fighter NewZ

    Anyone know why Assad is trading shells with the Turks and not with the Zionists?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | October 8, 2012, 8:21 am
  12. Badr,

    If someone says he is willing to live with prostate cancer instead of having an operation because the operation has a high chance of killing him right away and it is not certain to be a cure, while it will take many years to die of the cancer if at all, is that a lame excuse? I don’t think so.

    The regime supporters don’t want the “operation” even if keeping the regime may mean the demise of Syria.

    Posted by AIG | October 8, 2012, 12:24 pm
  13. Lally
    A second opinion about the Bibi Barak fight. I dont think it is a make believe show to help Barak get votes from his old party which he screwed in a vey ugly way. Joumblat could have taken a lesson from him. We learned lately in the ME that party machinary is very importnt. See the very late history of Egypt and what happened to these who had such machines and to those who did not. If there were several or even two such machines in Syria things may have looked different. Barak has no such machine at all. No organization, no deals no nothing. Ben Elierzer (Fuad) who have had such machine and could have helped Barak is old, sick and tiered. Barak did not built one and now it is too late. Presently he is very much hated in his old party and for good reasons too; nobody will work for him there at all, it is a common knowledge. He hoped to get an assured seat in the Likud, that seems now to be out of the question. Past history have shown that both he and Bibi have a super strong tendency to allienate these near them. In a way that fight was expected and is long time over due.
    Rani Hazbani

    Posted by Rani Hazbani | October 8, 2012, 2:29 pm
  14. Is Bashar for or against Stem Cell research?

    Posted by Maverick | October 8, 2012, 5:45 pm
  15. Maverick,

    He is for cloning. I don’t know if that is relevant! 😛

    Posted by danny | October 9, 2012, 7:29 am
  16. Maverick,

    Bashar is for confronting the Zion enemy and uniting the arab world against the common enemy. Haven’t you been reading SANA?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | October 9, 2012, 8:54 am
  17. AIG,

    When I wrote “In my book, a legitimate concern for a potential problem is a lame excuse for giving in to a present one”, I had in mind situations that involve more than simply pure materialistic personal gains/losses, like moral obligations, civic duties …
    I find it hard to understand telling someone why he should not support the Assad’s regime on the one hand, but on the other hand, he has a good excuse if can’t be persuaded otherwise, because of his (yes, agreed) legitimate concerns.

    Posted by Badr | October 9, 2012, 1:49 pm
  18. As a free service, and for those who weren’t entirely satisfied with the Camille Otrakji and Elias Muhanna discussion, here’s a recording of a talk entitled, “What’s better: Elected Islamists or Non-Elected Dictators”…

    Enjoy. I saw the first five minutes, and I voted for “Elected Islamists”.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | October 9, 2012, 2:13 pm
  19. Badr,

    Most situations involve a trade off between “materialistic personal gains/losses” and “moral obligations, civic duties”. You cannot clearly delineate. Many regime supporters face this kind of problem exactly. They want democracy and to get rid of Assad but are afraid for their families. There is a clash between the moral duty to get rid of a dictator and the personal cost of doing so.

    I think it is wrong to tell anyone that they should not support the Assad regime if they have a legitimate reason to do so. Why would you want them to act irrationally? Different people can act completely differently in the same situation and both can be rational because they have different aims, different risk tolerance or a different assessment about the future.

    Posted by AIG | October 9, 2012, 3:26 pm
  20. Rani.

    Your explanation helps to clarify some things in respect to DM Ehud Barak’s political weakness in Israel. Perhaps he feels that he has a more viable constituency among the US Democratic party apparatchiks and was working to shore up his base just in case Obama is re-elected. The collusion between American political operatives/advisors and Israeli politicians is another topic of interest.

    One could justifiably point to American interference in the Israeli electoral process. ;~{)

    Posted by lally | October 9, 2012, 3:34 pm
  21. AP,
    You went against Daniel? that’s a first. The first five minutes was enough anyway to know the gist of the debate. Daniel and partner used fear mongering to say keep the Dictator for Life..yawwwn. Yes, the US can try “pushing” the dictator to reform.

    Posted by Maverick | October 9, 2012, 10:43 pm
  22. Maverick,

    Right. I continued listening, but I couldn’t make it to the end. Daniel Pipes (and his collegue) kept saying we shouldn’t support Islamists, we should support dictators and try to liberalize the dictator. But from experience these past few decades, that hasn’t worked. Turkey is the best model, and I think/hope Egypt will go down that path. Certainly they have a deep fear of Islamist governments (which I understand), but if they’re elected, then they have to produce. And if the people want, then they’ll have to deal with it.

    No, I agree with Reuel Marc Gerecht. So no, I don’t agree with everything that DP espouses.

    Also, the President of the PA, Abbas is now calling for peace talks with Israel. As they say is hebrew, “Ma Pi’tom??” (what suddenly?). I guess President Abbas sees a stronger Likud and a disgustingly pro-Israel president over the horizon…

    Sorry Lala.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | October 10, 2012, 7:09 am
  23. typo: should read, “…people want war…”

    Posted by Akbar Palace | October 10, 2012, 7:10 am
  24. It’s funny to hear these bozos espousing the “support the dictator” mentality. Haven’t we heard for the past 30 or 40 years a repeated mantra from these self-described “intellectuals” that the little Arab guy needed to be liberated from the oppression of these reactionary, western-backed, dictatorships? (Back when it was convenient to point out the USA backed said dictators to protect Israel).
    Nowadays, the same clowns are clamoring for keeping these dictators in place…

    Another episode of How the World Turns, I suppose.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 10, 2012, 12:47 pm
  25. “I think it is wrong to tell anyone that they should not support the Assad regime if they have a legitimate reason to do so.”


    You have been telling Camille Otrakji “keeping the regime may mean the demise of Syria” for more than five years. I guess that does not fall into the category of telling him “that he should not support the Assad regime”!

    Posted by Badr | October 11, 2012, 2:32 am
  26. Badr,

    True, but the situation has changed. Alex did not have a legitimate reason why the regime should not drastically reform while it was in a position of strength. It could have been done with much less violence or no violence at all. He kept saying that change is 7-15 years down the road and I kept telling him that there is no time.

    Fast forward to now, the regime has cynically created a cruel and limited choice: “us or them”. And they have succeeded. The choices now are different than those 5 years ago. Yes, the regime is mostly to blame. It got us to where we are. But that does not mean that the average Syrian does not have a legitimate reason to support the regime in the current situation. It could be the best of bad options for some Syrians.

    Posted by AIG | October 11, 2012, 9:37 am
  27. Somehow the word “reason” in the above context sounds more palatable to me than “excuse”.

    Posted by Badr | October 13, 2012, 2:05 am
  28. Since no one has anything to say, I guess I’ll chime in.

    An article/info has leaked that the GOI almost made the Golan deal with Dr. Assad of Syria:

    Professor Pipes had this to say at the end of his article:

    (2) Ariel Sharon stopped this mistaken policy the first time and the Syrian people the second time.

    (3) Let’s hope that the upheavals of the past two years close down these misguided ideas of reaching Arab-Israeli treaties before real reform has come to the Arabic-speaking countries. (October 14, 2012)

    To which I say on Point (3):

    Professor Pipes, I thought you advocated supporting deals with despots over “real reform” (aka elected leaders)??

    Make up your mind!!

    Posted by Akbar Palace | October 16, 2012, 9:14 am
  29. Amal/Camille et al.

    Interesting read:

    Tends to agree with what I was trying to say in our discussion of previous days: It is not a foregone conclusion that the fall of Assad leads to an Islamist regime. That “It’s the only possible outcome” mentality that I’ve seen exhibited by that camp is not, so far, born out by facts in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 16, 2012, 4:55 pm
  30. Daniel Pipes needs to have a sit-down with Hussein Ibish.

    Posted by Maverick | October 16, 2012, 5:10 pm
  31. Indeed.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 16, 2012, 5:52 pm
  32. Ibish is ignoring the elephant in the room and the most salient evidence. If you want to know where the Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria are going, look at what happened to the Palestinians. For reasons I don’t yet fully understand the Islamists are much more organized and effective than their secular counterparts in the Arab world. Also, democracy for them is just a tool, not an ideal to aspire to. If you don’t limit yourself to playing withing the democratic system while your opponents do, you have a huge advantage. An example close to home is Hezbollah.

    It will take massive backing from the West, like in the case of Fatah, to keep Islamists in check and moderate them. But as we know, in the Arab world that is a death spiral. The more the West supports a party, the less popular they become.

    Posted by AIG | October 17, 2012, 11:31 am
  33. That is a good point, AIG. However, I have hope that people at large will evolve enough over time to get past the appeal currently presented by the Islamists. I think we’ve talked about this before, you and I. It may be that the Arab world need to go through a period of Islamist rule before they outgrow it.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 17, 2012, 1:36 pm
  34. BV,

    What exactly is the appeal of the secularists?

    To me, the majority of the secular and leftist parties in the Arab world look like they are following some bizarre manifesto co-written by Gamal Nassaer and George Habash. The Islamists are going to wipe the floor with them.

    The secularists are for Western values and institutions but against the West. They are against Wahabism but for Gulf money. They have chosen the perfect formula to confuse voters.

    Posted by AIG | October 17, 2012, 3:24 pm
  35. Agreed. I don’t think there are currently any viable secularists in the Arab world (at least not ones with enough name recognition and following).
    But I think that in time, a more “modern” type of secularist will rise. Not so much secular in the “leftist” sense we are used to, but perhaps I should use the word “modern”. Modern people, or people striving to be part of the modern, global world, with a better understanding of values such as freedom of speech, respect for minorities, the rule of law, etc.
    And I look to that generation (and I say generation because chances are these folks will originate in the western-educated, younger tech-savvy generation) to provide an alternative to the medieval-ism, and tribalism that pervade the region. I say tribalism and medieval-ism because it is much more than just an “Islamist” issue. It is a mentality of the Arab world at present.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 17, 2012, 4:36 pm
  36. Hey, good discussion… Check out this somewhat unrelated post on Lebanon from the space race to the hummus war:

    Posted by The Silent | October 18, 2012, 12:25 am
  37. But I think that in time, a more “modern” type of secularist will rise.

    You mean like that famous ME expert Camille Otrakji?

    I have high hopes for him!

    Posted by Akbar Palace | October 18, 2012, 7:18 am
  38. No. Like our dear absent host Dr. QN. And others like him. They’re out there. They just haven’t made an impact or developed much a following yet.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 18, 2012, 12:15 pm
  39. Not absent. 🙂 Just busy.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 18, 2012, 1:12 pm
  40. Tsk Tsk Tsk BV.

    QN has quite the following!

    Posted by Gabriel | October 18, 2012, 6:15 pm
  41. hmm

    I’ll try to clarify what I meant at the time when I suggested the 7 to 14 years (from 2007) as a time frame for democratization of Syria

    1) Many of you were asking me how I am willing to tolerate Bashar preparing his son Hafez to take over after him and some of you said specifically that the Assads will rule Syria for another 100 years.

    So I suggested that there is no way this can pass anymore and that somewhere between 2014 and 2021, Syria will have to move fast towards democratic elections.

    I was not delaying … Instead I was predicting the authoritarian nature of the regime has a much shorter life than some feared.

    2) I was saying it will be very risky to push Syria to change earlier than 2014 …

    I think that while I did not expect the “Arab Spring” events, I got everything right nonetheless… please think again about what I was saying and you will better understand my views I hope.

    Here is one example of what I wrote about my 7 to 14 years suggestion/prediction:

    170. ALEX said:

    As for being afraid from the democratic process … yes and no.

    I am afraid of it given the way things are now.

    There are prerequisites that can make me a supporter of the process. I will write about it one day. It is not impossible, and it does not need to take a 100 years as you assume. I think within 7 to 14 years (one or two presidential terms in Syria) we can get there (or near there)

    Posted by camille otrakji | October 19, 2012, 5:26 pm


  1. Pingback: Was Michel Samaha Set Up by Wissam al-Hassan? « Qifa Nabki - October 24, 2012

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