band annie's Weblog

I have a parallel blog in French at


June 2011

Cracking the Syrian Regime

Click on image

Inside Job

Inside Job (2010) is a documentary film about the financial crisis of 2007–2010 directed by Charles H. Ferguson. The film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2010 and won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2011

Sénator Bernie Sanders

Nov. 30 2010

Gaza Island

and this rerun

Reviled Tycoon, Assad’s Cousin, Resigns

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syria’s most powerful businessman, a confidant and cousin of President Bashar al-Assad, announced on Thursday that he was quitting business and moving to charity work, Syrian television said. The move, if true, would suggest that Mr. Assad was so concerned about the continuing protests that he would sacrifice a relative to public anger.

Blakis Press/Abaca USA

Rami Makhlouf is closely entwined with the Syrian government.

The businessman, Rami Makhlouf, a 41-year-old tycoon who has emerged as a lightning rod in the three-month uprising against Mr. Assad’s rule, is almost synonymous with the excesses of the Syrian leadership. Offices of his mobile phone company, Syriatel, were burned in protests, and his name was chanted in denunciation in demonstrations.

Though opposition figures doubted the sincerity of the move, even a symbolic gesture may prove important, as Mr. Assad faces the gravest challenge to his 11-year rule. For the first time since the uprising began, analysts said, a figure deemed a pillar of the leadership was forced to at least publicly step aside, a startling concession for a tightknit ruling elite bound by family and clan loyalty.

“The government is now using another set of cards, one that directly addresses the protesters’ demands,” said Bassam Haddad, director of the Middle East Studies Program at George Mason University. “Makhlouf is a symbol of the corruption in the regime.” But, he added, “as a change of heart for the regime, the decision has come too late, and it’s not going to be accepted seriously by protesters.”

In a news conference carried by the Syrian state news agency, Mr. Makhlouf portrayed his move as an act of generosity, though it was unlikely that any such decision could take place without the consent and perhaps the insistence of Mr. Assad.

Mr. Makhlouf said that he would offer shares of Syriatel, Syria’s largest phone company, to the poor and that profits would go, in part, to families of people killed in the uprising. He said profits from his other endeavors would go to charitable and humanitarian work. He vowed not to enter into any new business that would bring him personal gain.

The move represented a humiliating moment for a man who is leery of the limelight, only rarely grants interviews and is described by detractors as the Assad family’s banker or Mr. Five Percent. The ascent of Mr. Makhlouf, at the intersection of power and privilege, mirrored the Assad family’s consolidation of power in Syria over the past four decades: his father Mohammed, Mr. Assad’s uncle, was a magnate in his own right, and Rami Makhlouf’s brother, Hafez, is the intelligence chief in Damascus.

Mr. Makhlouf’s supporters praise him for investment in Syria’s dilapidated infrastructure, and the sleek offices of Syriatel are a sought-after destination for the urban young and educated. But they are far outnumbered by detractors, who call him a thief, and his unpopularity rivals perhaps only that of Mr. Assad’s brother, Maher, a feared and reviled figure who commands the military’s Republican Guard and the elite Fourth Division.

Mr. Makhlouf’s influence is so great, and his connection to the leadership so deep, that opposition figures derided the move as propaganda. Others speculated that it was devised to avoid sanctions imposed on him by the European Union, which included him on a list of 13 figures subject to a freeze on assets and a ban on travel to the bloc.

The United States imposed sanctions on him in 2008, accusing him of manipulating the judicial system and using Syrian intelligence to intimidate rivals.

“There is no transparency in his declaration because we don’t know what he owns and how much money he has,” said Ammar Qurabi, head of the Syrian National Association for Human Rights. “It is a step designed for media consumption only.”

But diplomats have said that Mr. Assad himself was angered by an interview that Mr. Makhlouf gave The New York Times in May, which offered a rare insight into the thinking of an opaque government. The frank comments amounted to a public relations disaster for a government facing mounting international pressure over a ferocious crackdown that, by activists’ count, has left 1,300 dead and more than 10,000 in detention.

In the interview, he said the government would fight to the end in a struggle that could cast the Middle East into turmoil and even war, suggesting that the ruling family equated its survival with the existence of the minority sect that buttressed its power and that viewed the protests not as legitimate demands but as the seeds of civil war.

“If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel,” he said in the interview. “No way, and nobody can guarantee what will happen after, God forbid, anything happens to this regime.”

Though Syrian officials quickly distanced themselves from the remarks, saying Mr. Makhlouf held no official position in the government, opposition figures and diplomats seized on the remarks as evidence of a government unwilling to change.

In some ways, the remarks were a candid take on a sentiment the government has sought to cultivate since the uprising erupted in March — us or chaos.

“They should know when we suffer, we will not suffer alone,” Mr. Makhlouf said.

Though prominent before Mr. Assad’s ascent in 2000, Mr. Makhlouf grew wealthier as he and Egyptian partners won one of two mobile phone contracts. His partners were eventually forced to sell. As Syria moved away from a state-led economy, he penetrated the economy’s most lucrative sectors: real estate, transportation, banking, insurance, construction, a five-star hotel in Damascus and duty-free shops at airports and the border.

He is the vice chairman of Cham Holding, set up in 2007 with 73 investors and $360 million in what many portrayed as an attempt to tether wealthy businessmen to the government. Syrian analysts say he is the company’s real power.

He was reported to have sold his duty-free shops to a Kuwaiti company in May, though some suggested that the move was intended to avoid sanctions.

The announcement by Mr. Makhlouf comes a day before weekly protests that have convened after Friday Prayer. Diplomats say Mr. Assad is also preparing a speech as early as Sunday that Syrian officials have described as significant, perhaps inaugurating a more serious government effort to engage the opposition in dialogue.

Nada Bakri contributed reporting.


Is Facebook’s popularity waning in the West?

Click on image

FBI to Expand Domestic Surveillance Powers as Details Emerge of Its Spy Campaign Targeting Activists


Click on image

A CALL FROM GAZA in Support of the Freedom Flotilla II

A CALL FROM GAZA in Support of the Freedom Flotilla II


Besieged Gaza, Occupied Palestine

We the Palestinians of the Besieged Gaza Strip, on this day, five years after closures began on Gaza , are saying enough inaction, enough discussion, enough waiting – the full siege on the Gaza Strip must end.

Shortly after 2006 democratic election which were supervised by people and bodies from the international community, nations formerly supporting aid and cultural organizations in Gaza withdrew their support. In mid-2007, our borders, controlled by Israel and Egypt, fully closed, locking Palestinians within and preventing imports and exports from crossing our borders.

From December 27 2008 to January 18 2009, Israel waged an all-out slaughter on Gaza, killing over 1500 Palestinians, the vast majority innocent civilians and among them over 430 children, and destroying thousands of homes, businesses, factories and buildings including universities, schools, hospitals and medical care facilities, and damaging vast tracts of our water and sanitation system.

Two and a half years following the cessation of Israel’s attacks, almost no homes and few buildings have been rebuilt, our sanitation and sewage system is more dire than ever, raw waste continues to be pumped into our sea –for want of proper treatment facilities –polluting our water and the fish along the coast which fishermen are forced to harvest –banned from entering the 20 nautical miles of sea accorded to Palestinians under the Oslo agreement—contaminating our drinking water and food supply.

Our farmers continue to be shot at, maimed and killed by Israeli soldiers along our border, prevented from working, growing and harvesting their land, denying us a rich supply of produce and vitamins. Nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition continue to rise, affecting our children’s growth and their ability to study. Our economy is shut down by lack of functioning factories and electricity. Our students hold little to no prospects of exiting for study abroad, even when placements and scholarships have been secured, due to the Israeli control of the Erez crossing and the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing being closed more often than opened. Our ill suffer for want of necessary medications and medical supplies and equipment.

Since 2005, over 170 Palestinian organizations have called for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions to pressure Israel to comply to international law. Since 2005, Palestinians have weekly met in villages in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, to protest Israel ‘s occupation policies.

Creative civilian efforts such as the Free Gaza boats that broke the siege five times, the Gaza Freedom March, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, and the many land convoys must never stop their siege-breaking, highlighting the inhumanity of keeping 1.5 million Gazans in an open-air prison.

On the 2nd of December, 22 international organizations including Amnesty, Oxfam, Save the Children, Christian Aid, and Medical Aid for Palestinians produced the report ‘Dashed Hopes, Continuation of the Gaza Blockade’ calling for international action to force Israel to unconditionally lift the blockade, saying the Palestinians of Gaza under Israeli siege continue to live in the same devastating conditions. Human Rights Watch published a comprehensive report “Separate and Unequal” that denounced Israeli policies as Apartheid, echoing similar sentiments by South African anti-apartheid activists.

The recent announced opening of the Rafah crossing has yet to be fully enacted. Even when open, it will mean little with respect to the imports and exports of goods to and from Gaza and will not improve the plights of fishermen, farmers and Gaza ‘s unemployment and manufactured poverty rates.

We request that the citizens of the world oppose this deadly, medieval blockade. The failure of the United Nations and its numerous organizations to condemn such crimes proves their complicity. Only civil society is able to mobilize to demand the application of international law and put an end to Israel ‘s impunity. The intervention of civil society was effective in the late 1980s against the apartheid regime of South Africa . Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have not only described Israel ’s oppressive and violent control of Palestinians as Apartheid, they have also joined this call for the world’s civil society to intervene again.

We call on civil society organizations worldwide to intensify the anti-Israel sanctions campaign to compel Israel to end to its aggression. We call on the nations and citizens of the world participating in the Freedom Flotilla 2 to continue their plans to sail to Gaza where they would be welcomed by Palestinians. The civil society initiatives of the Freedom Flotillas are about taking a stance of justice and solidarity with besieged Palestinians when your governments will not. We call on the Flotilla movement to grow and continue to sail until the siege on Gaza is entirely lifted and Palestinians of Gaza are granted the basic human rights and freedom of movement citizens around the world enjoy.

Signed by:

University Teachers’ Association

Palestinian Nongovernmental Organizations Network

Al-Aqsa University

Palestine Red Crescent Society in Gaza

General Union of Youth Entities

Arab Cultural Forum

General Union for Health Services Workers

General Union for Public Services Workers

General Union for Petrochemical and Gas Workers

General Union for Agricultural Workers

Union of Women’s Work Committees

Union of Synergies—Women Unit

Union of Palestinian Women Committees

Women’s Studies Society

Working Woman’s Society

Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel

One Democratic State Group

Palestinian Youth against Apartheid

Association of Al-Quds Bank for Culture and Info

Palestine Sailing Federation

Palestinian Association for Fishing and Maritime

Palestinian Women Committees

Progressive Students Union

Medical Relief Society

The General Society for Rehabilitation

Afaq Jadeeda Cultural Centre for Women and Children

Deir Al-Balah Cultural Centre for Women and Children

Maghazi Cultural Centre for Children

Al-Sahel Centre for Women and Youth

Ghassan Kanfani Kindergartens

Rachel Corrie Centre, Rafah

Rafah Olympia City Sisters

Al Awda Centre,

Rafah Al Awda Hospital,

Jabaliya Camp Ajyal Association,

Gaza General Union of Palestinian Syndicates

Al Karmel Centre,

Nuseirat Local Initiative,

Beit Hanoun Union of Health Work Committees

Red Crescent Society Gaza Strip

Beit Lahiya Cultural Centre

Al Awda Centre, Rafah

Al-Quds Bank for Culture and Information Society

women section -union of Palestinian workers syndicate

Middle East Childrens’ Alliance -Gaza

Local Initiative -Beit Hanoun

About the LCCS : who are they ?

Local Coordinating Committees of Syria (LCCSyria)
When the Syrian uprising began two months ago, local committees emerged in towns and cities across Syria.  These committees took responsibility for meeting, planning and organizing events on the ground within their own communities.

Over time, the committees have sought greater coordination between themselves, in order to synchronize their activities, movements on the ground and political positions.  Together the committees formed the Local Coordinating Committees of Syria, an umbrella organization with members from most cities and many smaller towns across Syria.

Local Committees under the LCCSyria

  • Committee  Dara
  • Committee  Homs
  • Committee  Banias
  • Committee  Saraqeb
  • Committee  Idleb
  • Committee  Hasaka
  • Committee  Qamishli
  • Committee  Der Ezzor
  • Committee  Syrian Coast
  • Committee  Hama
  • Committee  Raqqa
  • Committee  Swayda’
  • Committee  Damascus suburbs
  • Committee  Damascus

Blog at

Up ↑