I am not good at that. I mean, I don’t know how to collate news round-ups despite of all helpful modern blogging tools that make such task easier. May be I don’t like to do so, or perhaps, it has become harder as my main source of news ceased being news-papers and blogs and became fast tweets, rapid shots of RSS-feeds, and Facebook posts coming from all over Syria telling me and a cynical world where a mortar shell has just fallen and where the most recent massacre-by-barrel has taken place decimating a neighborhood block and absurdly ending many potentials of greatness, mediocrity, and just plain normal living.
It is also harder to be opinionated nowadays, especially regarding the rapidly unfolding events in Syria. Although they occure in rapid succession, these events nonetheless betray a slow steadily flowing lava-like wall of brutality, suffering, and unimaginable misery. Friends are wounded with no well-organized medical relief to take care of them, and when relief is available, it is mostly controlled by a single group with a viciously selfish and opportunistic political agenda whereby aid is dispensed only to those who belong in their allegiance to the group or to its battalions. In many cases, these battalions consist of fighters and leaders who are neither indoctrinated, nor deeply religious, but are pragmatic in meeting the needs of the moment, be it a case of ammunition, a few gallons of fuel, or some food to sustain their fighters.
What permeate the atmosphere in Aleppo are the genetic prints of the culture of despotism, nurtured and fed through corruption and terror by two generations of Assads. Despotism is evident among some armed groups, more evidently in the north than elsewhere around the country. In Aleppo, stories of abuse, theft, corruption, lack of coordination, greed, vengeance, betrayal, and selfishness continue to surface every day. A majority of these stories can be attributed to the hordes of Shabeeha (regime thugs). Abandoned by Assad when they could not hold off FSA progress in some of the older neighborhoods, they decided to form their own armed groups or to join other groups under the banner of the free Syrian Army. But other stories can be attributed to young men, now carrying weapons, and are entrusted with maintaining peace and order in liberated areas. The young men fail to remember that this revolution is all about ending abuse and behave the only way they have seen men with arms and authority behave, which is being abusive with a sense of entitlement. As expected, the regime, continues its deliberate and vengeful “burn the country” madness as its forces bomb infrastructure including power stations, bakeries, hospitals as well as civilian neighborhoods, being high on its check list of mayhem. Power outages, water cuts, and full deterioration of basic services have made life unbearable in a city used to abundance, and during forty years, was devoid through premeditated malice by the Assads and their goons of civil society institutions with the capacity to maintain social cohesion in times of disasters. Aleppo is a city plagued, like all of Syria, with a state that is indistinguishable from the brutal regime, described by Yassin Haj-Salih, as having used the state to cement its brutal sectarian rule, and gradually eradicated it and turned it into a mere extension of itself. Clearly, the regime shed the state at the moment the it became a liability to the small gang of bloody Assads and their sectarian criminal circle.
It is natural, therefore, that some residents of the liberated areas in Aleppo’s would complain about the presence FSA in their midst. Lack of basic services, severe bread crisis, weeks’ long black-outs, and water outages, all under constant bombardment will eventually get to you. But is that a sign that FSA is losing public support? Or that the regime is gaining more supporters? Frankly, I believe that only a fool, who is completely detached from the facts on the ground would think that the regime can gain any public support at this stage. Same fool, of course, may even think that this criminal gang of thugs care about gaining public support. The Assads and their henchmen have combined brutality, corruption, despotism, fatalism, and sectarianism to create a witch’s brew of absurdity of an inhuman scale and qualities. Within such severely deformed prism, facts don’t matter, and it is irrelevant whether one believes his own lies or not for suspension of disbelief is no longer a requirement. What matters is only fear and spiteful vengeance. And both are hallmarks of the inhuman horde that had ruled my Syria for most of my lifetime.
In the midst of suffering and in contrast to the lack of coordination among FSA groups in the north emerge groups of highly disciplined fighters. The origins of these Jihadist groups is unclear, but they are now coalescing under the banner of Jabhat Alnusra (Support Front). I have argued in the past that Alnusra is highly suspect of being a regime’s creation. But recenty, the front and its smaller sisters seem to have taken an increasingly more visible role as the most effective of the anti-regime armed groups. Moreover, there are visible campaigns to bestow a legendary stature on the front as its fighters seem to be present in almost all recent victories of the the FSA against the regime. With each victory, the group gains control over much of the spoils of captured weapons and ammunition. Other groups, not directly affiliated with the front, but wanting to get access to the same source of support the front has, are starting to copy-cat the front’s behavior, contrary to what a majority of Syrians expect and want from this revolution. This is exemplified by those fools who declared the establishment of the virtue brigades calling for cleansing Syria of Alawite as well as the small band battalion leaders war-lords wannabe who declared an Islamic Emirate in the north in a desperate effort to oppose the newly formed political coalition, which they feared will centralize funds and leave them out to dry if they don’t shape up.
Arguably, the presence and ascendancy of Jihadi groups has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they have made it easier to wipe out the regime’s brutal security apparatus in the upcoming post-assad era as they have managed to close many of its branches, scare its informants into hiding, and intimidate its collaborators, sometimes through outright execution style assassinations especially at the local level. At the same time, they have made defection of much-needed officer corps harder than it would have been without their rigid “I am a Jihadist” attitude and their arrogant calls to force a Taliban model state of future Syria. In fact, and as expected, the have pushed their luck too far and have now scared the US and some other nations to the edge of declaring them terrorist organizations. Such declaration, even if right, further complicates the ongoing liberation of Syria. It hinders much-needed relief efforts and jeopardizes the immediate post-assad political process.
I have not commented on the forming of the new Coalition. Many have argued that the coalition suffers the same ailments of its largest component (SNC), which is controlled by the opportunistic and cynical Muslim Brothers. In my opinion, the coalition, for now at least, presents a reasonable platform. It seems to be successfully led by a charismatic and respected leader, who still needs to do much more to stem the monopoly the Muslim Brothers have over much of the aid resources available. This monopoly continues to place honest people, who are willing to work within SNC in bad situations. Today, the Kurdish National Council decided to join the coalition, which is bound to reduce the influence of the MBs. Hopefully, with more opposition groups joining as a result of the coalition becoming recognized as the legitimate interim representative of the Syrian people, there may be a chance for some marked improvements on the political front. Power plays are bound to affect it, like any ad hoc political coalition formed in response to external pressure while facing a brutal regime that has succeeded, through this brutality in making relief work the primary measure of performance for the opposition instead of their political or even military successes.
Likewise, militarily, also under external pressure, there seem to be a trend for coordination. A meeting was held recently in Antalya, Turkey between representatives of many of the armed revolutionary groups. Once more a new central command was announced, albeit in complete isolation from the political coalition, at least for the time being.
Criticism of the FSA is coming from several sides. I will of course dismiss that emanating from loyalists and regime propagandists. But I will not discount any criticism voiced from revolutionary quarters. Some of the criticism is fair and some is not, but in all, it is a very healthy sign that has thrown some of the personnel and leaders of FSA off balance and has caused them to try to ameliorate some of the problems, albeit through Sharia Courts, and vice and virtue brigade, which on many occasions have add fuel to the fire instead of calming things down. I would further argue that once the regime air force and artillery are silenced, hopefully soon, civil society will emerge and will thrive in short order. It is the regime’s murderous campaign of destruction that continues to hinder the establishment of effective local councils. The evidence of the inherent and capacity to produce healthy community governance was well articulated earlier on NPR
Overall, the picture is grim. Syrians are now recalling what their great grandparents have once told their parents about the great years of famine and misery. That was the time of Safar Barlek when the Ottomans forcibly drafted most men of all ages for then war efforts and confiscated most agricultural products. This left the women, the children, and the elderly to fend for themselves during one of the harshest cold spells in the elders’ memory. The Syrian tragedy resembles no other, for never in recent and past history have rulers shown such contempt to their own people. The misery of Syrians have spread throughout the region. Children have died in the cold of most inhumane refugee camps in Jordan. I was recently told that the Jordanian authorities tax every single aid shipment intended for the camps or for wounded Syrians in Jordanian hospitals by confiscating a third of the shipment. This is notwithstanding that on several occasions, what was left after confiscation, never really made it to the camps or to those who need it. There is no worst story to tell of the horror than that of children’s horror. Even the lucky ones, who made it through the help of family members into the safety of homes in Egypt or in one of the gulf states continue to suffer. A Facebook post illustrated this most vividly by telling the story of a little girl, who was brought to safety in the United Arab Emirates by her uncle. The girl went for an outing with her family during the celebrations of the UAE national day. When she heard the sound of celebratory fireworks, the little girl pressed her small hands over her ears and started shouting hysterically, Bashar is bombing us, Bahsar is bombing us.
It is for this child, it is for Hamza’s memory, for Qashoush, for nearly fifty thousand Syrians young and old, murdered in cold blood by Assad gangs, with fanfare from ugly and cruel herds of mindless loyalists accompanying the slaughter, it is for the victims, for Syria, and above all for humanity that Syrians can’t lose hope. We can’t afford to lose it, even knowing that this regime might and can easily resort to the weapons of mass murder in its arsenal. There is nothing that the regime has done to demonstrate that it amassed the arsenals of weapons for anything but for its survival even if that meant the utter destruction of a beautiful country, and the death of all of its inhabitants. Anyone who thinks that there is a shred of humanity or of rationalism in the Assad gang is a fool who has blinded himself to forty years of history leading to two years of anti-historical nightmare. No one is responsible but the regime, and anyone claiming otherwise is complicit in the great Syrian Genocide. The list of regime crimes include, in addition to the evil murder of tens of thousands of Syrians, the torture of hundreds of thousands. But the most evil of this contemptible gang’s crimes is the attempted murder of the souls of Syrians and of their humanity. To the scared child I say, sweet child, they have been bombarding us for forty-two years. Little by little, they destroyed our heritage of civility. But my sweet child, we will get that back. Granted, we may lose some of our innocence, but from you dear child, we will learn it again.
Revised- Saturday: December 15, 2012
Note: Dear 7ee6anis. I think by now, most of you already know of SYRIA DEEPLY. It is an outstanding new site on Syria that combines smart commentary, intelligent design, and for the tech-freak mundass some incredible tools such as defection tracker, regime relation mapping, and an updated map of incident on the ground. The site also feather Syrian Stories, with two so far written by the wonderful Amal Hanano. You may want to read this article about Syria Deeply describing how the site Outsmarts The News, Redefines Conflict Coverage.
I have been having hard time writing. The scale of massacre, the increasingly accelerating brutality of the regime, and the confusion and missteps on the side of “organized” opposition has made it very hard to follow without being angry and confused, .
The outpouring of sentiments after the tragic death of Anthony Shadid tells as much about our own need for balanced and intelligent reporting on Syria as it tells about the extraordinary character of the man whose loss we bemoan.
In the meantime, many good articles have come out recently. Jadaliyya continues to emerge as a powerhouse of thoughtful in-depth commentaries and articles on Syria. The international community continues to work very hard into convincing itself that it should not interfere in Syria. And Syrians continue to be murdered by a brutal regime. Questions about the future of Syria and the region in case the brutal regime succeeded in silencing the revolution are starting to circulate, as the regime increasingly deploys its sectarian strategy in search for survival even if it has to rule over heaps of dead Syrian children, women, and men.
The regime’s constitution “tailored” for Bashar al-Assad is another part of the play. The retention of articles pertinent to the religion of the state and president are not meant to assuage the protesters, who are hell-bent of removing the mafia gang and its boy-king don. However, one can hardly pas it without observing the short-lived righteous indignation among regime supporters as reflected in some of the emails received by Joshua Landis [here], especially those that went on incredible mental and moral acrobatic hoops in support of the “reform accomplishments” of Bashar Al-Assad
Another friends responds:[From Syria Comment]
I am surprised you are not acknowledging and celebrating these two accomplishments, and are instead nitpicking on the mechanism of how a president is nominated…. Every country has specific rules. Look at the electoral college in the US…..”
The constitution fiasco is both a distraction and a new link in the chain of cynical insults to Syrians the Assad mafia has been subjecting the country to over 40 years. I have said a while back that Bashar will be sure to empty any new constitution of real reform and to ensure that it is customized for him. For months, many regime friendly comentators went into discussing how “a strong” prime minister will emerge as a balance to the “presidency”. Even now, a cynical comment on SC boasts of the emergence of 6 political parties in Syria while ignoring that the fraud constitution makes these parties ineffective, useless, and mere dressing for continuing totalitarian state with unquestionable authority to the presidents, who presumably will be a long line of Assads. On facebook, and in other platforms, the seculars in the opposition, with few exception, went busy, also for a short time, arguing the contentious point of selecting the president-nominee while ignoring the most important parts of any constitution, “separation of powers”, which is completely absent. The president is the source of all powers. He can not be held accountable in front of the Parliament. The executive branch is a single person, who at the same time is the highest judicial authority. The parliament is a mere figurehead albeit with little or no chance of any real challenge to the Baath/Assad domination (Note/Q: anyone knows if the Baath party or any of its dog-tails in the national progressive front have submitted applications for recognition yet?). I am curious about some of those who preached Bashar Al-Assad the reformist and promised a strong prime minister years ago, which, given their absent if not obfuscating position, seems to indicate that their stance then, is as it is now aimed at the retention of the tyrant Assad at all costs. Their failure to voice any meaningful response to the regime’s middle finger strategy only shows them as nothing more than cult members in the Assad cult.
Then comes another odd question, summarized again on Syria Comment [here] about the leadership of next Syria and whether such will emerge from FSA or SNC. The reason I find this question as being odd is that it came at the heels of the post by Idaf [here], who argued that the revolution is neither SNC nor FSA and that it is organic and growing. Idaf’s points make such question of leadership mute at best, and renders SNC and other visible group as mere transient external connections and not the real thing. Idaf’s post is receiving wide attention, especially among activists in exile but who are well connected to secular activists on the ground in the inside. It has been translated to Arabic, and made it through several FB pages. They found in it a validation of their role in the revolution and of their justifiable concerns about what seems to be a strong arm tactics by some battalions of the FSA and a justification of their earlier fears, abandoned only for a short time, of the militarization of the revolution.
This is a critical issue. In the aftermath of the regime’s brutal massacres in Homs, Hama, Idlib and its apparent success in punishing hot-spots of civil protest, especially those where FSA had established presence, many now question whether FSA is really successful in protecting civilians. A legitimate question that is being amplified by the emergence of “power struggle” for claiming leadership of the military wing of the revolution, and by the publicity of the yet to be proven claims that “Al Qaida in Iraq” has already infiltrated some of the FSA battalions and initiated some actions on the ground in Syria. The increasingly sectarian face of the regime’s action in Homs is also a source of fear among activists. However, an activist, with strong connections to the ground told me when we were discussing how the FSA has not been able to prevent the onslaught:
Everyday there are operations that are inflicting heavy losses on the regime’s paramilitary. These operations are not publicized by the regime for obvious reason and not publicized by the FSA so that people like you (he meant me OTW in real personality) don’t go shouting that FSA is conducting “offensive” operations, which has been declared a taboo by activists who want to guard the non-violent element of the revolution.
The chains of bifurcations when discussing the Syrian revolution make focusing very hard, especially when with respect to sectarian incidents. An activist hailing from a minority sect sat me down for a long conversation about this issue. The activist told me
“Look at all the video clips that supposedly are being sold by members of the Shabeeha and regime’s forces in which obvious severe abuses were committed by men with very clear coastal mountain accent. Only a naïve person would think that such tapes can be sold without the person being easily identified and punished as happened to the brave engineer who exposed the post-speech rally for what it was. It is a regime’s strategy to show and emphasize that the abusers are all from one sect. And the regime is solely responsible for the initial leaking of these clips. It aims to accelerate and intensify instinctive sectarian responses from the widest possible segment of the opposition, preferably at the street level and on social media and in a response to the response, heighten the fear among the minorities and intensify their belief that, having seen the obscene sectarian hatred against them, they will be massacred en-mass upon the fall of the regime. The regime will argue that that the abuse intentionally publicized incidents are only isolated incidents and that there is a sectarian undertone to everything the revolution does. An added bonus is the manipulation of the “guilt-by association” fears that the regime wants to encourage among conscientious members of the minorities relying on the fact that while they represent the wide majority of these groups, fear of mass retribution will trump disgust at these actions especially when some in the opposition start shouting “silence equals complicity” and call on various groups to declare their distance from the regime loudly even at risk of severe punishment from the regime .
The activist also told me of yet one more tactic used by the regime to increase sectarian tension and accelerate sectarian war. This tactic has been used on many activists, especially those with religious leaning, and it goes as follows. During interrogation, the worst torture, including verbal torture is intentionally applied by soldiers who belong to minorities. Local dialect is heavily overemphasized. But at some point through the detention, the activist is made to have a calm session with a “sunni” high ranking officer, who would then complain to the activists that “as sunni his own hands are tied” and that alawite are in full control of the situation and there is nothing that can be done now about them short of an all out sectarian civil war, which he (the officer) tries to prevent, but thinks is coming because of these “sect scums” who are even tying the hands of the “good” president, who is more “sunni” than anything else.
I find it nearly impossible for an intelligence officer to say such things if not given a green light based on a planned manipulative strategy to do so. Another activist who has worked on the ground until a couple of months ago confirmed elements of both Idaf and hazrid posts and affirmed the role of women activists in the revolution, particularly in providing relief and support to the families of the victims of the regime be them martyrs or hostages-detainees. The activist, also hailing from a minority group, told me that in many a neighborhood, especially those with conservative leaning populations, only women can provide effective support and comfort to widows and their families. Grass-root support networks are flourishing in some areas, through which activists from all ideological shades work hand in hand to deliver relief and comfort. However, and as hazrid mentioned, the MBs, who have little or no real connection to these largely sufi areas, have been using these mostly secular networks to gain entrance, then, and through manipulative language attempt to gain party loyalty to enhance their ground presence in anticipation of post-revolution politics. In other word, they are opportunistically gaining footing. This is also consistent with what I heard from members of the SNC who complained about the insistence of the MBs to maintain control of the SNC led relief operations and their tactics of distributing the relief in their own name whilst it should be distributed in the name of the diverse opposition.
On the Eve of the UN vote, I met an old friend of my parents who is visiting is son, now a dear friend of mine. He knew me when I was a child, but was later transferred with his family to another town before being forced into an early retirement after having been deemed not loyal enough to Hafez and his Brother. I came in to greet him, he held my hand with a strong confident handshake and with his left, he patted the seat next to him signaling for me to sit down. I did, and we started talking.
The UN vote had just been announced and like most of us in this “revolutionary hang out”, he was elated with the results. But I sensed that his response was a bit more complex than the moral validation most of us felt then. And it was. His first assessment was that Russia and China have literally “screwed up” their prestige. “Two super powers, who usually enjoy the support of almost every single developing country in the UN could only muster the votes of only 12 countries, most of which are either satellite states, despotic regimes, or heading backward in that direction”. He reiterated: from day one of the Security Council fiasco, it was known that the Chinese are taking a stand half principled and half motivated by their interest not in the Syrian regime, but mostly in Iran. The Russians , on the other hand were dealing and wheeling. It was like they were in the bazaar, where Syria was only their “causes belli” for dumping off many other bargain items and extracting every single possible concession from many countries whose interest in the primary matter was not that high to bargain on such strategic issues only to get a decision that they themselves were not ready to take. China would have abstained had it not been for Russia’s veto. But now, they UN GA vote has dealt their prestige a great blow, morally and politically. We agreed that the veto was anything but a victory for Russian Diplomacy, to the contrary, it was an abysmal failure and a signal that the Soviet empire is finally over.
We then talked about middle class and about how both Assads decimated the middle class and how Bashar’s economic reforms were designed only to enrich the Mafia gang leaving the middle class with no prospect for survival and the poor with no prospect for making it upward through education, which according to him, was what took him and his wife as well as my parents from being on the edge of rural poverty to the ranks of reasonably secure middle class” back in the fifties of the past century. He pointed that even Lenin, cognizant of economic and intellectual weight of the middle class, had insisted before Russian revolution turned totalitarian on including the small bourgeois in the revolution’s ranks as opposed to his adversaries who wanted to cleanse the nascent state of what they thought as being a class with no loyalty.
He said, referring to the Assads: they were mafia, they are mafia, and they will remain so. They can not and will not reform themselves, let alone the layers of corruption through which they bought or forced loyalty. It has been 40 years since a real officer has made it above Brigadier General, or a single real thinker or leader made it into the upper echelon of the bureaucracy machine. Ignorance and mediocrity are their main friends, whether it is on their side or on the side of their opponents, and the knowledge and competence are their enemies.
His conclusion was interesting: all we need is to achieve a 51% ratio of enlightened citizenry. It doesn’t matter whether they are religious or not, it only matters that they are logical and secular. In Iran, we know that they are not there yet, as indicated by the inability to sustain the green revolution , In Syria, we have no real clue yet whether we have that since the regime has been successful first in forcing the armed option and seems to be heading towards success in forcing a sectarian civil war. I don’t think we have 51% yet, but we’ll never know until the regime falls, which is only a matter of time and blood.
A friend, who just arrived from Aleppo describes a ghost town. Business is almost non existent. Shabeeha have full control of fuel supplies once they arrive at the pump. While parked in the 2 hours long line, it is common for a shabbeeh to knock on the window asking if you want gasoline, which then is sold at incredibly high price. Price of food has more than doubled and even upper middle class families who now survive on their saving have to think whether to have fried eggs for lunch. The city, along with Damascus are increasingly restless, despite of the regime’s attempt to “reward” Aleppo for the apparent loyalty with the rewards ending squarely in the pockets of the greedy shabeeha.
After i finished the post, and went on to view twitter, i was in for a surprise, a blog called The Sweet Maker’s Wife, written by Evelyn Aissa a young Syrian Woman who holds a Masters in International Law. The current post on the blog is titled Deconstructing the Narrative on The Syrian Revolution (Jan 26, 2012). It is a more than worth reading for the excellent brief description of the various components of the opposition, if not for the plenty of other well presented information.
Request from OFF THE WALL
This just came out. It is the draft (project) for the Political program of the Syrian National Council (SNC). I will not comment on it now, and will leave that to the comments’ section and may be for a future post. But it is more than critical and urgent that all of us take a look and participate in discussing the various points. I try my best to convey your comments will to the SNC, and I am sure that Haytham will do so well
In 2006, and during the Israeli war on Lebanon, Bashar Al-Assad, claiming leadership of the Arab resistance camp, and using the popularity of Hizbullah’s struggle against Israel to burnish his own image, called Arab leaders “half-men”. Whether that was on the minds of the 18 foreign ministers who voted yes for the suspension of the participation of the Syrian delegation in all of the league’s activities and meetings remain to be found by those who write books of political intrigue and personalities. For now, it is clear that the Syrian regime thought that its policy makers are smarter than the “Bedouins” and has underestimated their resolve and intelligence.
The Chair of the meeting today, Qatar’s foreign minister outlined the decision in 7 points. Here they are in Arabic, then in English: Read the rest of this entry