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May 22, 2006



Ammar, you are right that Joshua was a bit too generous to "Syria" in that article, for example he made Israel totally responsible for ALL the casualties in the west bank, because they controlled it, whereas he did not apply the same rules to Syria which controlled parts of Lebanon for many years (to a lesser extent) ... so I agree the numbers are not that one-sided.

Now, here is the part which should start a nice discussion here:

My very non-scientific ongoing poll of any Syrian I know tells me that so many Syrians are thankful to the regime for that aspect at least ... Damascus is indeed one of the safest cities in the world, and despite all the legendary stories about the scary moukhabarat, your friend in Damascus did a good job of greatly reducing the visibility of those security apparatus members without losing control, despite what is going on in Lebanon and Iraq.

One can give them good marks for things like managing the sudden total withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon without any visible disturbances in the army .. remember for example how many Syrian opponents in Lebanese and Kuwaiti press predicted that the regime would not survive the anger in the army following the humiliating withdrawal from Lebanon?

Many Syrians used to doubt at some point if that security was worth the price …. When the whole mideast was doing well security wise during Clinton’s early years for example, Syrians were wondering why is Syria still loaded with intelligence and security agencies.

But after the way Syria held so well despite the war next door, and the controlled withdrawal from Lebanon, many now are more inclined to appreciate their superior security.


I admit the regime was adroit at brainwashing the people, a people who wanted with their all their might to believe, hence to be brainwashed. We all had our moments in our youth when we though the world of our leader Hafiz al-Assad, when we were actually proud of him. But, some people choose to face the real music while they dance, others, filled with so much insecurity, prefer to dance to their own illusions, not to mention toe that were handed down to them. We do indeed have our work cut out for us to reverse this brainwashing.

Alex: “your friend in Damascus did a good job of greatly reducing the visibility of those security apparatus members without losing control, despite what is going on in Lebanon and Iraq.”

Indeed, he did so, in Damascus. But not Qamishly. Hell, not even in Lattakia. We often fall into the trap of reducing Syria to Damascus. I, occasionally, do to. But, this not what’s really out there. What’s out there is much more complex than you and I think or would like think.

Alex: “One can give them good marks for things like managing the sudden total withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon without any visible disturbances in the army.”

The Syrian army is nothing. We only have a few workable divisions directly controlled by the Assads, and whose sole purpose is to defend their rule. So long as the key figures in these divisions are still receiving their benefits, and so long as some trickle down mechanism is still at work internally, there is no reason why these divisions should not remain loyal to their masters.

Indeed, the Assads were always good at providing security for their rule and their grip on power, but this is not the same as provide security for the country. If there is going to insecurity in the country, the Assads will be the major source of it, much like in the good old 70s and 80s. Most Syrians, including the Alawites, were afraid of the wantonness of Rifaat’s Defense Brigades than they were with the bombs of the Brotherhood.

Alex: “But after the way Syria held so well despite the war next door, and the controlled withdrawal from Lebanon, many now are more inclined to appreciate their superior security.”

Syria held so well, because the Syrian regime was responsible for channeling the mayhem to Iraq. But let me put it this way, Syria is holding well these days because, so far, no group is seeking to really destabilize it on the inside, not in a violent sense anyway. Let’s hope and pray that we don’t have to see the day when the Assad security apparatuses have to go after a real threat to the security of the country, because, believe me, they will fail miserably. Don’t they fail each time Israel carries out a little something inside Damascus, like assassinate a certain Hamas figure in Damascus a few months ago?

You might want to check the latest entry in my Arabic blog, Zandaqa, in this regard well.

Zenobia of the East and West

Ok, here is an annoying thing that I don't know the explanation for. These days I make it a practice to take opportunities to talk to random syrian people online...(who i guess respond because they wonder why a strange american girl name 'Zenobia' of all things is talking to them. Anyhow, after a certain period of introduction and chat, I generally get to a where i ask them what they think of the government, politics, and the president. I hate to break the news, but in almost every case, the person was critical of the government functioning to a degree (certainly in the past), and definitely objected to human rights abuses, but overwhelmingly they defend Bashar Assad (and that is even if they have a negative view of the regime as a whole). There is an extraordinary amount of hope attached to this man, for some mysterious reason. And people trust him, and believe that he is a big improvement over his father. I then started asking all my relatives in Syria too, and was shocked to find the same results...despite their abhorence of the ongoing corruption..and economic failures, they still think Bashar Assad is not to blame. Most of the persons I was speaking to (and including my relatives) are seemingly average middle class citizens...not elites by any means. Anyhow, perhaps this is what is meant by saying that the population is simply not discontent enough to want a total unheaval of the govt, and certainly not an outside driven overthrow. At the same time, I dont' think this means that the citizenry doesn't want democratic practices to be established or that they don't dramatically protest against human rights abuses.


Hi Zenobia, we are all insomniac I guess. Indeed, it is fascinating about Bashar, isn’t it? The \man is a total moron, ut people still defend him. But you know why. Because if people stopped defending him, they will have to come face to face with the ugly reality they are dealing with and, more importantly, with the more ugly responsibility that they have to do something about it.

There is also the little thing in our collective unconscious that teaches us to remain at awe vis-à-vis the ruler/caliph/sultan/emir/president. It’s not that easy to completely shake off this idea. Still, personally, I put more stress on the first part of my argument.

You know who...

Ammar, Zenobia is west coast ... the rest of us are east coast!


I have a 4Am type of question: Since we have Zenobia the psychologist here, what do you think is the effet (if any) of your "moron" label .. if this blog's content reaches him sometimes?

I agree by the way with Zenobia ... I know some people who used to totally hate his father but they love Bashar.

And my grand mother loves him.

But you have to consider that unique case: the regiem is mostly not popular, the presdient is very popular .. people do not want to punish the president even if they got fed up with the regime.


Zenobia, Ammar,

Yep, they think Bashar is not to blame. And I am sure they do not blame themselves.

It' s the fault of that man, right there, behind the curtain.

Dementia is alive and well in Syria, Lebanon and the region at large.


The grotesque measure of death per capita suggested by Joshua Landis is an idea that is based on flawed logic and that will never ever be taken seriously by anyone antwhere in this world. I am so certain that this concept will result in outright condemnation of its author and that in this case even Mr. Landis' standing as an academic will be tarnished beyond repair.

If one is to use say 1/100 deaths as an acceptable measure then what we are in effect suggesting is that individual human rights are dispensable for the good of the political dictator. But what is worse is that such a measure places much less value on human life in a large political entity than a smaller one. This means that in a country of say 1.5 billion people executing 15,000,000 is deemed acceptable when compared to say 10,001 in a coutry of 1 million.

When a global warming study suggested that the "statistical value" of a human life is to be taken into consideration in determining the kind of policies to adopt in combatting global warming it was attacked, villified and rejected by the international community.

The idea of death per capita is theproduct of a sick mind, a mind bent on reverse engineering, decide what outcome you prefer and then find a justification for it. Joshua Landis has lost the right to be taken seriously.


The big majority people hate bashar but there is the usual hypocrisy that exist in such countries, they think it's better to beg for their natural rights than to be confronted to the reality and the risk of a high risk uprising.
But for sure ,if asad is toppled no one syrian will die for him.


This post has been removed by a blog administrator.


It’s soooo easy to criticize and while much of the criticism might be valid. I only hear how we could have been better if this and that happened. But in reality the most pragmatic examples to what Syria might have become, if the Assads did not come to power, would be Syria's "brotherly" countries. So can anyone here please humor me and tell me which Arabic state can be a superior model that we can envy/follow? thanks in advance


Zenobia of the East and West

Well, I am about to become East Coast for a month- as of tomorrow, so i will have to work harder to keep up in the middle of the night!

anyhow, it seems like there are a number of things at play to explain my findings. (And unless I am asking the wrong people, i think anonymous is wrong - the majority of people do not hate Bashar.....) They actually defend him in one part...with the 'well, he is much better than what we had' argument. But in addition, they really seems to sympathize with him... or like! him as a person. That is what it seems.

I mean I almost what to compare it to George W. Bush - who also is like the teflon president for a huge portion of americans... despite his obvious limitations... in huge part because people identify with some aspect of his personality (his anti-intellectualism?) and LIKE him.

And to add a little bit of confession here..... When I saw Bashar Assad on Charlie Rose, I found that I LIKED HIM! I mean it was disconcerting, but truthfully - I felt that he came off very mild and amiable. All laughing and speaking in this polite manner. I was thinking...'aaawww that guy wouldn't order anybody to be killed.....he's so good natured'. As well, I have interviewed a lot of people for the purpose of assessing their personality, (and yes, this was not a private interview but one plastered all over the western world...but still) I have to say - he got an A+ for presentation. He is either an amazing actor or coached extremely well....or ....he really truly believes in himself, or he is a absolute contradiction. I will put my money on the last two descriptions.

For this reason, it doesn't matter who calls him a moron. The proof is in the pudding. People defend him.

And I think both reasons Ammar cited are important explanations, plus something Josey Wales implied. One, syrians are very big on loyalty (i am learning)...or something like obediance to authority and status. So, they don't want to abandon the King, so to speak. Two, (and yes more importantly) they don't want to face reality and have to take responsibility for taking any action. Three, I noticed that Syrians are a very paranoid culture. (sorry if i offend anyone here, but it is undeniable. ) People are convinced of the "man behind the curtain" - as Josey Wales put it - who is the cause of all problems. People are highly inclined to believe in amazing amounts of conspiracy to a fetishizing level. (Did you guys see the comment from 'Lebanese Geeks.com in the comments section of Landis' Michael Young Post??? that type of thing blows my mind)

But the paranoia is clearly defensive again. If one supposes a grand master conspiracy that predetermines or controls everything, then there is nothing to do. I think there is indeed a high degree of victimhood in the mentality of the syrian people, and I am not saying that it might be for valid reasons or a natural product - given the history. But it is nonetheless, a horribly self-sabotaging collective psychological phenomenon.


Zenobia, it is not only in interviews, Bashar has been polite and excessively modest all his life ...

Here is what happens when he goes to a restaurant on the weekend.

Some think he is acting, but at the age of 16 he was also respecting a lineup like anyone else in Syria (more than anyone else)

Syrians want him to succeed. It is a mistake to experct a Nicolae Ceauşescu ending.

Those who advocate Democracy in Syria are partly right in pushing hard for that to happen soon. If Bashar managed to improve the standard of living in a dramatic way, a majority of Syrians will not bother at all to follow up on the democracy thing... security and good economy will do.

Of course things will change if they somehow prove he ordered the Hariri murder (they found nothing yet) or if the economy deteriorates quickly ... And that might be the indirect way to topple him ... by applying constant outside pressure to keeep him busy with outside threats, he will fail economically and the Syrians will not want him anymore.


You know who, I think excessive public use of the “moron” label is what got me to the East coast. Be that as it may, I think Bashar does indeed believe in himself, excessively so if you ask me, I hope this excessive belief in oneself will get Bashar to the East Coast as well, or at least as far as The Hague. Indeed, it is not going to be easy to get people in Syria to the point where they are going to hate Bashar personally, hence the need to expose his darker side, which is not really that difficult to do if we have the right access to the media. Arab media so far still avoid taking on leaders in any direct manner, not even al-Hurra will do that. This is the real essence of our problem in this regard. We can formulate a message that can debunk the myth surrounding any number of Arab leaders, provided that we have the right continuous access to the media. Blogging and old-style pamphleteering might go a certain way still, but, who is really reading these days. No, you cannot beat the visual media’s effect in this game.

IC, no Arab country might be better off than Syria, but that still does not get the Assads off the hook. They screwed up Syria. They will not the only ones, but since this happened on their watch and as a result of much of their policies, they have to bear the brunt of the blame. This is the price for consolidating power in your hand. You get credit for everything and you get blamed for everything. Of course, I also know that when we want to come up with realistic solutions to our problems, we should then take notice of the other objective reasons for them out there. Blaming the Assads for all our ills is good opposition propaganda, but is not a cure-all for our problems. But first, we need to take on the Assads, and that means taking on Bashar, and that means attempting to find a solution to the media access problem, meanwhile, let’s see if we can something started through various attempts at labeling using the limited access to the media we have. Hence my use of the “moron” label, among others on this blog. I will keep on trying until something stick, or somebody else’s labels stick.

Meanwhile, and as Alex noted, a “good” Brammertz report or serious economic failure would “help” our case immensely as democracy advocates.

But don’t you even start pointing out to the “moral” and “ethical” dilemmas involved here. I, for one, am quite aware of them, which is why I only push within certain limits, I just want to create the necessary conditions fort he Street to has its say in the matter, for something internal to well up, but, if the Street should clutch tenaciously to its quietist stance for too long a time, then fuck it, certain things cannot be rushed. If the people are not ready, then, they are not ready we have to accept that. I am not going to go all Bolshevik on them, albeit I cannot guarantee that others won’t. In fact, I might even guarantee that others will. This is the essence of my fear and my desire for wanting to push for change now.

Meanwhile, Washington is a good place to raise my kids, and I could be as a good an American as any.


bashar,can not be separated from brothers,sister cousins,uncles,they belong to the same house and mentality,they control everything in syria,economy,republican guard,moukhabarat,torture rooms,they are maher,basel,maher,majd,fawaz,rami,bushr they are even more corrupt than the former team.
at the top in the picture posted by Alex, is shaleesh ,bodyguard and cousin of bashar,and as the other members,a big thief.

Syria deserve better.


“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” - Lord Acton

I have to start off by saying that I do not know anything in depth about the Syrian government. However, from what I do know...

Bashar was never ment to be president. He was Hafezs' son, but he was always in the shadow of his brother and probably came to peace with it in his teens. However, after the death of his brother, he knew that he was the only one left to fill the place of his father. Bashar probably did have good intentions for the country, but when he was put in the middle of everything and realized his place in Syria, he realized that change is hard in a well established regime as it was.

Now, I don't know if he did or did not order any killings, but if he did, he must have a lot of carisma to act like he does.


Alex my good friend,
I have been reading your comments and others on Josh and Ammar blogs….
You would be an excellent choice to head an image improvement PR campaign to help of the Syrian regime" or let's say Assad only". Dr Bouthina Shaban failed before, But I see a big improvement for sure.
I am afraid Dr . Assad may fail you as he did for others.



Atassi, I knew that comment was coming! .. especially after the photo I posted above!

But to balance things a bit (although it is too late for that) I will try to find some bad things to say about "him".

And stop getting me in trouble with Dr. Shabaan!
(joking again)

more seriously: I am not, and I will not get involved with any side politically, I assure you.

And I know that I might follow Ammar's conclusions a year from now ... I realize he used to think similarly to me a year or two ago. But I am still not there ... so I need to be convinced by myself... I am hoping things would be better (not great, but better) if few other things are difirent from the time Ammar was there.

Yalla ... tolerate me for a while.

Zenobia of the East and West

Hey, i'll tolerate you. I liked the picture; I think it made the point perfectly.

Meanwhile, I am glad to hear that ammar is not going to go all 'Bolshevik'.....laugh....

But ...so when is the rally, demonstration, unroar in DC...???? assuming you were serious. I am sure many of us, myself included could drum up some PR to get good 'body count' (live ones) to show up. You said you have people working on it, but let us know.


Very Interesting discussion Folks. I agree with Ammar's take on things Completely. I used to think that Bashar was trying to change things and that he lacks a little bit of experience and control but once he has it he would get Syria on the right track. But over the years he managed to destroy the successes of his dad in foreign policies, and he still kept the incompetent team in charge to reach the total isolation of today. Then his failures in Lebanon when he seemed like he was getting out on his own in 2001 to the killing of Hariri last year (I thought that he was not ruling and that his brother or inlaw did it), but then the speeches and the other assassinations followed and the defiant tone etc...no one got punished and they even killed Kanaan to hide their crime. It was too obvious and now with the current arrest wave and the alliance with Iran, the guy proves not only that he is inexperienced but also malicious and very corrupt. I don't care if he dines every day with the people (I used to get impressed by that too), Saddam Hussein used to visit people's houses and open their fridges on TV to make sure they are eating well. This guy only dines with the wealthy, the people are getting poorer and his cousins move "their" money (what was stolen from the economy) to Dubai and other safe havens. Iraq war did the most damage to Syria and the Syrians because people are afraid of getting the same violent outcome, plus it increased islamic extremism and the hatred toward the civilized west. The Syrian regime has a ruthless bloody history and no one got ever punished for it, so it is still there no matter how nice the face looks. Syrians are afraid and the regime knows how to play on divisions and scare the minorities who prefer stability over the unknown. But we have to start somewhere...and expose the regime for what it is, just a big mafia interested in money and power.

There is no reason to cover the regime when it represses freedom of speech in 2006, check out my comparison with the Ottomans

For a better Syria


http://freesyria.wordpress.com/ Free Michel Kilo Now

Alex, don’t worry, I am sure the Assads will take care of you for us. They are good at converting smart people into opponents. Ahem, Wink, Nod.

Hi Zenobia, I was definitely serious with regard to the demonstration. We are making contacts now to see if we can make this into a collaborative effort with a number of organizations and campuses across the country so we can get the numbers. I will post on this matter, of course, as things develop. I should have some more concrete things to say by the middle next week. I really appreciate your interest, my dear.

Good work on your site Fares, good luck with it.

I would also like to remind people here of the old saying so popular in our part of the world, for very obvious reasons: The hand that you cannot fight, kiss it, and pray that God may break it.

I think the spirit of this saying is deeply inlaid in the fabric of our brain and consciousness that we don’t have to fake anything. We really love the ruler, and we really hate the ruler. But while we can freely express the first sentiment, we have to wait until the ruler is deposed or diseased until we express the latter. So, expect nothing but love for Bashar these days. But don’t read too much into that. Questions of hate and love under authoritarian regimes tend to be a bit more complicated than we’d like to think, and they impact different strata of society differently.

Zenobia of the East and West

wow, that is an amazing little adage. .... and i think it is soo true. The sentiment towards the rulers are indeed very complex, love and hate being two sides of the same coin. And once a feeling of betrayal sets in (assuming this ruler inevitably fails), the anger and hate will be proportionate to the adoration and love that was once heaped upon the 'king'.



I guess I'm saying X = Y
You are saying -X = -Y

Despite my positive tone and your negative tone, we both know the simple basic problems and opportunities and limitations in Syria today.

Ammar, Zenobia and all the other Insomniacs:

Sorry, today I am not staying here much longer. I will go to sleep early today (1:34AM)

Take good care of the Blog please.


As an Iranian, I am happy to be reading this very interesting blog and discussion.

But one said: "First we have to get rid of Bashar, before we can establish democracy ..."

Well, we Iranians got out of the pothole only to fall into the well of barbaric Mohammedanism and Islamic enslavement.

How are you guys going to deal with Islamism? I don't even see the concern here. When you first get rid of Bashar, all hell will break loose and you will get Klashnikovs, not democracy.

What is your roadmap? You dont seem to have one. Nobody is talking about a roadmap here. Just complaining how bad Bashar is -- which is old news.

If you want to achieve progress, you need to have a roadmap, and you need to creatively find a solution to the danger of Islamism.

Otherwise, you will be discussing this every night, into the wee hours of the morning, for another 27 years. That is right. We overthrew the Shah 27 years ago, and we were saying, max 2 years, max 3 years, and we are still counting.

Get real - and produce a roadmap that people can buy into it. You will be surprised to see that even the regime people, if their interests are covered, will also buy into a practical, fair, progressive, and secure roadmap.

How are you going to stop the Islamists from voting themselves into power in your democracy? If you don't have a solution, then the problem is yours, not Bashar's.



oh no!

Anonymous you sound too much like me!

That was not me! ... Zenobia will now notice that we both use the word "creative" ... and just before that I state "I am now going to sleep" ... a good cover.

I swear I do never say "barbaric Mohammedanism and Islamic enslavement."

As for the point he made: I will add to it that many Iranian leftists and intellectuals thought the revolution was also partly theirs, only to find out that they were totally kicked out of it... for those ex-communist party Syrian opposition members who believe they can unite with the MB "FOR NOW" until they get rid of the regime...

On the other hand, the case of Syria is different from Iran

1) Syria does have a sunni majority, but it has a much larger minority segment.

2) the MB, or many leaers in the MB at least, are more modern and "moderate" than the clergy in Iran in 1978 ... at least they are giving the impression they are.


Zenobia of the East and West

alex is pretending to be an Iranian blogger again........at 5 in the am

no, i think you are off the hook. you never would say "the well of barbaric Mohammedanism and Islamic enslavement."!

I think he has a point, but i agree also that Syria is very different from Iran. Different enough we hope. I dont' know about Iran, but a syrian was telling me over the weekend that the MB in Syria derives from (what he describes as) a very pathetic and uneducated class of people. He said their appeal has always been reactionary - not about their having something substantive to offer. He thinks is very different from the MB say in Egypt or Iran. And he asserted that even if one cut them in to a parlimentary system, that it would be only a matter of time before they would be voted out due to a lack of substantive governing abilities or real benefits to anyone.
I have no idea if this was a valid argument ( i didn't state it well either), but it was interesting to me.

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