« The Activists as Pariahs! | Main | A Surprise Party! »

May 26, 2006



I do not know how you think that puting money in banks outside Syria is not treason.Ammar ,i can say that you only see doom and gloom in Syria while you and your freinds did nothing for that country,sombody said ,if you have the courage to critisize the you should have the heart to help,and that is what i say to you.


Norman, you have been following this blog for quite a while now, but, I believe this is the first time you accuse me of not trying to do anything to help my country. Do you really think that by investing in the companies and banks operated by regime figures and their cronies I am helping the country? Or that by sending my children to decrepit public schools, when I can afford the alternative (which has not been the case by the way, my kids did actually attend the public school system), is helping the country? Or do you really think that the last five years of my life and before I was forced to leave the country were spent lounging by the Sheraton poolside, as had been the case with the two years that preceded them? I have done my best and I am still doing best and I have suffered the consequences and still suffer the consequences, and I don’t complain, well not too much at least. For I had a choice every step of the way, and I choose this.

Anyway, the whole point of my contribution here was to make the very point that Rime Allaf made much more eloquently in her post, namely that colored Band-Aids that don’t stick very well do not qualify as serious reforms. So, if I don’t see but gloom and doom in Syria these days, it’s because, when it comes to the serious issues, there is indeed nothing but.

But we do have quite a few new restaurants in Old Damascus and Old Aleppo, and there a few malls around these days, and the social life is always much more interesting than it is in these parts 9well-nigh desolate by comparison). These things, for all their superficiality, have, nonetheless, been quite sufficient to keep me in Syria, for the all gloom and doom that I can still see. But then, I was forced to leave. It’s been none months since I arrived with my family to these parts, and we are still living on Damascus time. What do you think this insomnia is all about? What do you think this blog is all about? What do you think my constant talks with US and other officials have been about? Why would I even join the ranks of the opposition when I could have a much easier and more lucrative subsistence being one of the “new faces” in Bashar’s entourage?

You don’t do me justice my friend. Or perhaps, I should have put more thought in the phrasing of this post. Well, knowing what the topic for next is going to be, I know I have to.




I just posted my own thoughts on Syrian reforms on Syria comment.
Any feedback from you would be welcome

Don Cox

Money may not trickle down, but crime certainly does. A criminal government gradually turns all its citizens into criminals. You can see the results in Iraq - removing the top layer of the regime still leaves massive amounts of crime underneath.


EHSANI2, I think your piece is excellent for the cogent and clear nature of its arguments and straightforwardness. If the political is there, much can be done to change things around. The process may not be as smooth as you make it sound and some transitional arrangements will need to be adopted in order to compensate "the losers" in the game of privatization, many of whom are Alawite, by the way, as they are disproportionately represented in many public sector enterprises. This adds another of complexity to the whole matter and further elucidates why Bashar & Co. are so reluctant to privatize.

But, we also have to note that privatization under the current system of lack of transparency and corrupt judiciary will only result in the further "Ramification" and "Assadification" of Syria, and will not have any "trickle down" effect for most Syrians, as we can clearly see from those little incidents of "privatization" that have already taken place: the semi-privatization of the communications industry by granting the cellular contracts to Rami and Hamsho, and the recent privatization of the country's cement industry with the contract going to Rami. Both sectors, by the way, were among the very few profitable public sector enterprises.

As Such, it is very clear that privatization under the Assads will not produce any of the desired results and will actually be wielded as a tool to further their control and their leverage buyout, so to speak, of the entire country.

This only serves to illustrate the point you and I have made repeatedly before, and ad nauseam, as some would contend (but, then, the whole thing is really that nauseating, we are not inventing stuff here), namely that the Assads are part of the problem and cannot be expected to become part of the solution, regardless of our wishes and prayers.

The Syrian Brit

'...that the Assads are part of the problem and cannot be expected to become part of the solution...'
Do you not think this also applies to Khaddam??. He certainly was an integral part of the problem, yet, there are those who are willing to accept him as part of the solution..
p.s. Boy, has Norman touched a raw nerve or what!!... I have to say,I felt the anger in every word in your reply, as if it was my anger.. I tell you something, though.. don't feel that you have to justify your actions to anyone.. I have given up a long time ago after years of trying to justify my motives for 'abandoning' the old Country!.. I know you haven't, just as I haven't either.. some of us can actually help a lot more from outside..


Indeed, Syrian Brit, I anger did pervade my previous comment. But, it was necessarily aimed at Norman per se, it's just the pressure of so many things taking place at the same time.

As for Khaddam, indeed, since he broke away from the regime, and has busied himself rallying the main forces in the opposition to his side, I believe he has positioned himself rather nicely to become part of the solution, at least for a certain critical transitional period. His presence could encourage others, if not to openly break with the regime, than, to at least be more sympathetic to the opposition message and demands, since, with Khaddam on board, it becomes clearer that the opposition wants to simply open a new page in Syria’s history, not seek retribution for past misdeed. People have been hoping that Bashar himself will see the wisdom and logic in this, well, he didn't, which is why he became part of the problem to us.


Ammar ,i never tought that you do not love Syria ,i still think that you would have helped more trying to push your thoughts from the inside ,A parent loves his child who is getting B and C at school ,he keeps yelling at him to do better ,study more ,do better making his child,s life difficult missing the fact that his child is good at sport liked by his peers and teachers respectfull and caring of his parents ,so is Syria with problems but also good things ,then we go to the child again ,keep yelling at him to study more and make him feel bad or tell him to sit together to discuss his grades ,he might have a bully kid at school terorising him or might have problem seeing the blackboard and needs glasses or has trouble understanding math and need parental help or a teacher,s help now Syria has many problems and we need to see how we can improve Syria and what Syria needs , I am as guilty as you are and propably more as i have been outside Syria for many years although my mother goes almost every year and i went to Syria in 2003, i never joind a political party in Syria and i left Syria for economic reasons after gradution from Damascus University school of medicine 1979 i wanted to do internal medicine but noticed that to open a office means i need alot of money (frogheye)turn key price ,now that can be corrected with a contract law so rentals will not become owners ,i am trying to say that Syria needs the thoughts and the expertise of many of it,s people who care about it and i think you are one of these people but you need to move to solutions for Syria,s problem no matter who is there.please think about what i am trying to tell you and do not take my note as an attack as they are not ment to be .


Norman my friend,

I hope your Lebanese friend is not reading ... I think you made about 80 grammatical errors above!


I'm joking, I know you have a good sense of humor.

Zenobia of the East and West


I keep trying to log on to the think tank (i did successfully once before) but it keeps telling me 'login fails' - even though when i tried to re- registered it tells me i am already registered......and the password is correct.

as for the Lebanese....Norman, whatever you do...stay away from the current post on Syria.comment, as I was just beaten over the head several times by some psycho and then condescended to by Active Listener and told that my words were an "unreadable diatribe" (apparently now I am the racist and have responded too harshly to the psycho's traumatized Lebanese soul) and that I should apologize to Joshua's blog. This came - of course after I was told by the psycho that i am clearly some inferior scumm semite stock if not "a jew" (god forbid!)..... just like Ehsani2. and after he took material off my own web page and bastardized it into a racist piece of trash onto the comments page. hmm.

You know, I think I will just stick with you guys... who don't usually make me feel like shit, and hopefully they won't migrate over here.

As for ammar, even Norman knows you have a sacrificed a lot. This is all the more clear to me....since every time I ask someone lately why they don't want to support some opposition movements for change or challenge the status quo...or even protest these human rights violations... i get a lot of air about how they have to protect their family's safety, reputation, and financial business. In fact one of my cousins who is quite political about other things concerning arab americans - just outright said he won't support any syrian opposition for the bottom line reason that he is "a business man and a coward." His words.
so, you are not a coward my friend, whether you are in Syria or in DC...you are willing to sacrifice your comfort for a cause and a vision of the future of Syria.


Thanks Zenobia, you're very welcome here, and I hope to keep this site smear-free. Indeed, the only people you can straight out curse in this blog are the Assads (teehee).

Norman, indeed, and as I told Syrian Brit, I didn't mean to be so angry. I think I was reacting to too many things at once.

Indeed, I wish I could have stayed in Syria, after all, for all its problems it’s the one place on earth I can identify most with. And I wish I could have treated the Assads like kids, but they are simply not, you know. There are some people who clearly cannot be reasoned with, no matter how sophisticated the methodology involved is, because they have made their choices long ago, and they really know what they are doing and, no matter how wrong you and I might think it is, they are at peace with it.

Yes, the Assads are quite at peace with the idea of denying us our basic rights, because they are convinced that this is the only way for them to survive. The other way requires that they become saints more or less, and they have no interest in that. This gives us no choice, I believe, but to be frank and blunt in our opposition.

My categorical opposition to the Assads did not come as a result of a snap decision, it is something that developed over time, and is the result of numerous observations and experiences. Regime change is not the best scenario for the country by any means, but it is the one that has been thrust upon us by the avarice, corruption and particular convictions of the Assads and their supporters.


Kids are given leeway because they have no idea what they're doing. The Assads are not kids--they know precisely what they are doing, and they are doing it anyway.

But, like kids, if you do happen to get in their way, all they know how to do is threaten you with violence or exile.



While I can imagine all the things that drove you to your cionclusions, I feel they are still too Black and White. Again, the two years you spent in Damascus (when you were the most active in politics) are not enough to generalize, and to refuse to explore some possibilities, or to revisit them in a different environment.

For example, the NSF group includes the most corrupt baathist, it includes representatives of a group that killed thousands of Syrians ... yet you are willing to explore that possibility for practical reasons, as you say.

If you followed your "assad's hopeless case" logic, then you would have assumed that Khaddam was also hopeless. He did spend 40 years as a highly arrogant, highly corrupt baathist, didn't he? ...

40 years should have been enough for you to make a final judgment on his potential use in future "solutions" to Syria's political reform problems. Yet, somehow in 2006, Khaddam became for you a potential part of the solution ...a possibility worth exploring and commiting to to some extent.

If the finacial market experts followed your logic after any two bad years, then we would have heard by now the following advice:

Never touch technology stocks again! (after the collapse of tech stocks)

Things change. Shutting doors and burning bridges only reduce the number of possibilities that you can explore in the future.

I believe you are playing a useful role, but not an optimal role...

Now I have the feeling I already said the same thing on this blog about 5 times already... sorry!


Alex, we can practical only with those who wish to be. Khaddam began contacting the opposition since 2002, as many internal opposition figures are now asserting, while the MB were busy revising their charter since 2001, producing a more pragmatic document in 2004. The Assads have done nothing of the kind, despite repeated promises in this regard. They continue to demand total obedience. Indeed, they are the ones who championed and continue to champion the "either with us or against us" school, not me. In fact, Assef Chawkat used these very terms each time we met.

On a related note, Alex, I have actually been active in the civil society scene ever since 2000, that is, immediately following the death of Hafiz, indeed, on the very following day. For at the time, friends of mine from an Embassy in Damascus asked me to prepare a daily report on how the Syrian and Arab press and media chose to cover this whole affair, this immediately mushroomed into a regular daily exercise, one that compelled me, for the first time in a long time, to follow up on daily developments concerning Syrian politics and economy.

I also tried at the time to publish an article in al-Nahar, criticizing the transition of power to Bashar, on the grounds that he did not bother to introduce himself to us through any kind of real public engagement, other than through being the patron of the Syrian Computer Society, throughout all the grooming years. In other words, he did even not try to legitimize the process of transition from father to son through engagement in some public activities aimed to endear him to the people. The people were taken for granted throughout process, a matter that culminated in that disgusting off-hand manner in which the constitution was amended. I wrote the article 2 months before the referendum had taken place, but the people at al-Nahar that time opted not to publish the article because they wanted to take a wait-and-see stance at that time.

My second article was a published immediately after the referendum (in which I voted no, of course, just as I did in Hafiz’ last referendum thus becoming only one of 219 people to have voted no at that time, a little feat commemorated in the following poems, here and here). The short article called for the dissolution of the Baath state and for the establishment of a Third Republic. I was clear in my stand even then. That set the tone for everything I did later on. Bashar to me was an illegitimate president, but one who could legitimize his position by engaging through honest and drastic reforms. But very early on I could see where things were going, as I noted in this article.

Since 2002, I decided to move beyond rhetoric and into some sort of action, and this is where the action has landed me. I have no regrets, but I have this little conclusion to make: indeed, when it comes to reform in authoritarian countries, reformers have to deal with a lot of unsavory characters and have, therefore, to show a high-tolerance for disgust and revulsion and have to be willing to show a well-nigh almost infinite capacity for forgiveness, though not forgetfulness. Still, reformers, in the final analysis, can only deal, regardless of intentions, with those who are willing to take them and the reforms they propose seriously, and to deal with them on a more or less equal footing. The Assads have never willing to do that, because they look down upon all reformers, not to mention the entire Syrian people, a disease that tend to inflict all authoritarian rulers, especially when their ethnic background is involved, and they are convinced that any compromise with the opposition will end up spelling their doom.

I wish things have been different, but they are not. I have said that before too Alex, many times. But we are not going to convince each other, are we? But the, I don’t believe this whole exercise is about convincing each other, to me, it’s more about building bridges of trust and understanding, because they will come a time, sooner or later, when the Assads are no longer with us, at least not as top dogs (but they can remain as bottom-feeders of course, which suits them best, if you ask me), and people like me will need all the trust they can get.


Alex is asking us to believe that since “things change”, the Assads “may” change too. He is perhaps sure that they “will” change in due course.

Indeed, things do change. The world is never stationary.

But change can also be to the worse. If it was to the better, it is important to describe what kind of change and when?

Just to say things change is too broad and open-ended a statement. It lacks specificity and application.

Change in which direction? What type of change? When?

A 300 pounds man who needs to reduce his weight may get asked to “change” his diet immediately to avoid serious disease. Rather than eating 5 burgers a day like before, he now proclaim his success at changing his diet from 5 down to 4 burgers a day. Is this a reason to rejoice? Is the change large enough or fast enough to avoid serious disease or death? If I understand Alex’s logic, he will have us believe that this is good enough as the man has already “changed” his diet.


Ehsani ,i hope you do not want the to have anorexia nervosa as that is not helthy either.


Alex, Even you Brutus.


By the way, there was an error in one of the links above, here is the link to the actual poem that deals with the 1998 presidential referrendum.


Ehsani2, I yhink I also disagree with Ammar, yet Ammar seems to have an easier time understanding my opinions.

I think it is a problem of whatever first impression you had of me that you can't keep out of your mind as you are reading all my newer posts.

Please tell me which of these I have to work on to change your mind. Am I:

1) a paid regime supporter?
2) a regime supporter?
3) an idiot?
4) naïve?
5) illogical?

I confessed already to not being an expert on economics, and I told you I got a C in my grad Economics course (which I deserverd) ... but I never commented much about economics either. did I criticize your piece at Joshua's today? no.

I tried about 10 times so far, but I'm about to give up communicating with you, with all due respect to your accomplishments in economics.

Can I suggest for you to not read my comments? .. that might make it easier. You never like them anyway, you find them "amazing" and "absurd" ... and this last comment of yours: "If I understand Alex’s logic, he will have us believe that this is good enough as the man has already “changed” his diet."

for your info: You are confusing me with some of the others who were arguing with you at Syriacomment. I have not implied that I am happy with the 4-burgers a day type of reforms. I am saying something very simple:


And who am I kidding. Next you will tell me:

Why should they reward the regime?

And I would answer: ... I answered that question in detail and you disappeared from the discussion.


I will send you an email Ehsani.

I am sure a man who has your education and experience can do better than that.


Alex, I think EHSANI2 will agree with you that the regime will not leave. It needs to be forced out . And the trick is: can we force it out without major bloodshed? Or do we need a tank column on our side? I think that this is the real challenge ahead of us.

You want us to offer a very tempting deal to the Assads, one that they cannot reject without de-legitimizing themselves in popular eyes, thus turning the people against them.

But even if the people turned against the Assads, what can they do? How can they fight the Assads? Or, are you proposing that the international community should do the fighting on their behalf, on the premise that this time the Syrian people will not look at this matter as an unjustified interference in their own internal affairs?

But, for all the obvious justifications that the international community had to interfere in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Serbs still felt victimized, and many stood by their local leaders to the bitter end. Feelings of anger at the international community linger to this very day, despite the overthrow of Milosevic.

I think, many Alawites will react in the same manner, no matter how justified international interference will be.

But, the international community role aside for now, even the Street moved against the Assads on its own accord and without any external support, the Assads will do their best to imbue this move with sectarian overtones, and they will get many Alawites to support them.

So rather than wasting my time dealing with your scenarios, which are only going to lead us to the same crossroads: how to get the Assads out with minimal bloodshed? I prefer to focus on the technical issues involved in regime change within the Syrian context: how can we create bridges of trust between the Sunnis and Alawites between the secular forces and the Islamists, between Muslims and Christians, between Arabs and Kurds, and how do you isolate the Assads even within the Alawite communities and challenge their hold on the reign of power there?

These are the real issues at hand as far as I am concerned.


I said it before: we disagree on our estimates of probabilities and we disagree on the wisdom of hedging through considering different options...

I believe that a Baathist regime that does not accept "the" deal offered to Syria will not be able to govern Syria for long. No need for foreign intervention at all. They will realize it and they will accept the deal that will also give them a wonderful place in history (that's right, since everyone here says they are not after revenge)

Why is this option not on the table? why was it NEVER on the table the past 30 years? ... before everyone got fed up and started to say "we should not waste time with the Syrian regime"

But enough of that

Happy Birthday!

Nancy is a very nice girl. I met her in Montreal. wonderful smile and wonderful character.

Haifa ... nice couple of tunes, but she is getting on my nerves lately.

And Ammar, you must be a good dancer to be amused at the way the Americans danced today to Haifa's tunes. My dancing is horrible! (like my economics!)... Last wedding I attended, a Vietnamese engineer did a much better job pretending he in enjoying Arabic dancing than I could do.



You are NOT a paid regime supporter, a regime supporter, an idiot, naïve or illogical.
You are an intelligent person who views the world in shades of grey. In contrast, I see things more in Black and White. It does not mean that you are wrong or that I am right. Indeed, most human being are in your camp and not mine. At my age, I have already made up my mind for example that capitalism is good and socialism is bad. This is a black and white issue for me that involve no compromise. I think that you view the middle as acceptable. You may argue that neither of them is right so I will pick the good pieces of each. In the case of Syria, I am also made up my mind that the system is not suited for change. You seem to want to believe in a grey area that allows for that possibility. Again, most people are in your camp and not mine. Why do I argue with you and not the rest? Because I think that you are smarter than most and hence its more fun to engage with you.

Joshua Landis

Ammar, Happy birthday and keep on contributing to Syria and America, to the arts, and to everyone through your humanity and dialogue. You always take the time to explain your thoughts and defend your positions, even to you critics, which is the measure of tolerance and generosity.


HI there Josh, what a wonderful surprise my friend. Welcome to my blog and mucho thanks for your kind words. When is your birthday?

Alex, you said: "Why is this option not on the table? why was it NEVER on the table the past 30 years?" Oh come on, you know, you're exaggerating here, what do you think was on the table back in 1978, and all through the 90s?


Ehsani, thanks for the clarifications. very kind of you.


Fine. As for my exaggerating, you are partly right, but here is this PBS documentary

in it, it shows how:

1) in 1978 Menachem Begin tried to even not give Egypt the Sinai!... Sadat packed his bags and almost left Camp David. Hafez knew from his negotiations with Kissinger, and from intermediaries with Begin that he was not getting "the deal". They needed to pacify Egypt, and that was enough. Begin was not in the mood to give everything away.

Dig a little deeper, you'll find things. Many details from those times are not classified any more ... Camp David was done behind Hafez's back. If they wanted him, they would have involved him earlier, not the day Sadat went to Israel.

Sadat did the right thing for Egypt, and Hafez did the right thing for Syria.

2) the 90's ... go to Patrick Seale and ask him if Hafez was genuinly interested or not in peace negotiations. Read Clinton's book.

So, I might have exaggerated, but that illustrates to you the limitations of deciding to paint using black ink only ... if I go back to my favorite shades of Gray, I will restate as follows:

The closer the Americans and Israelis got to offering Syria "the deal", the closer things were to a solution... the regime did not run away form a promising deal.

The past 5 years, Syria was getting: peace for Peace ... no regional role, Syria and Jordan are equivalent.

Bashar accepted to go back to negotiations from point zero and they encouraged him by concluding: "He is so weak he will beg for anything now... we will ignore him"

Ask the Syrian people how do they like that offer.

Anyway, we have a new Israeli leadership now, it looks a bit more promising.

The comments to this entry are closed.