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October 11, 2012

Aref Dalila: Negotiation is Forbidden

Syrian opposition figure Aref Dalila (C) attends the opening session of “The National Conference for Syria Salvation” in Damascus 23 September 2012. (Photo: Khaled al-Hariri)

By: Marah Mashi

Published Thursday, October 11, 2012

Syrian opposition veteran Dalila tells Al-Akhbar that the regime is as unserious about dialogue with its home-based critics as it ever was, despite allowing some to hold a conference in Damascus.

Damascus – Aref Dalila, the veteran opposition figure and member of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change in Syria (NCC), has no time for those who use the latter epithet merely to try to absolve themselves of responsibility for the crisis.


“If there really is a conspiracy, as claimed, you have to ask why those who hold to the idea of a conspiracy did not prepare in advance to counter it and safeguard against it,” he remarks. There are indeed conspiracies being played out in Syria, he says, by individuals “who seek to serve their personal interests and acquire more of what they do not deserve.” But the crisis in the country is an “objective phenomenon,” and the blame for it lies with the regime, which “created conditions that enable every possible conspiracy and plot to be hatched.” 

Dalila draws parallels with the former Soviet Union, where “the suppression of freedom of opinion enabled corruption to become endemic, leading to its internal collapse without any external aggression.”

What we are witnessing today is “a mixture of a revolution, an armed insurgency, and a conspiracy,” says the economist and former political prisoner, “but primarily it is a revolutionary movement. It is a continuation of the long struggle of the Syrian people…. against corruption and for change and political and economic reform,” which has always been countered with “savage repression” by the authorities.

So why has it been unsuccessful? “The reason the struggle in Syria has not been resolved is because the regime acted to militarize it,” he affirms.

Full article here

Jon Stewart’s Theater of the Absurd

[Screen shot of [Screen shot of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”]

Soon after King Abdullah II ascended the throne of Jordan in 1999, he began using media and advertising campaigns to distinguish himself from his father King Husayn and to present his policies to his subjects.  While for decades King Husayn’s picture appeared all over the country – garbed in bedouin, military, and Western costume – almost immediately, Abdullah trumped his father in sheer size of display by propping up an enormous poster of himself along University Road in Amman. He followed that act by erecting the largest flag pole in the world on a summit in the capital; the project seems to have been so successful a replica now dominates the skyline over the town of Aqaba. In the years since, he has plastered the country with multimillion dollar campaigns for “Jordan First” and “We Are All Jordan,” developed by the global ad agency Satchi and Satchi. Abdullah and Queen Rania have also used American television shows to sell themselves and their image of Jordan to American viewers. Gaining American support has now become a multimedia project, as the two seek to present themselves as moderate Middle Eastern leaders struggling to modernize their country and remain as allies of the US government.

The latest act in this scenario saw King Abdullah make a return appearance to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Tuesday night, 25 September, 2012. Stewart afforded Abdullah the rare honor of extending the interview through two segments of the on-air show and then posting nine additional minutes to the show’s website. In this three-act play, Abdullah presented a coherent thesis about his role in the Middle East in general and in Jordan specifically. In this performance, buttressed by Stewart’s startling acquiescence, Abdullah is the wise elder statesman guiding the young people of the region toward a democracy that mimics the successful one built in the United States. He is a father figure recognizing that his people will make mistakes as they proceed but willing to stand in to protect them from the extremists who could lead them astray. However, this story only makes sense if performed in front of a narrowly targeted audience:  one made up of Americans who know little about Jordan and for whom the image of Abdullah has become familiar and comforting. Both his vocabulary and themes he outlined come straight from a simplified reading of American political history and play on frequent explanations of Arab behavior discussed in the American press.

Full article and videos here

The Fall of the House of Asad

steve bell’s asad
by Robin Yassin-Kassab

This review of David Lesch’s book was written for the Scotsman.

Until his elder brother Basil died in a car crash, Bashaar al-Assad, Syria’s tyrant, was planning a quiet life as an opthalmologist in England. Recalled to Damascus, he was rapidly promoted through the military ranks, and after his father’s death was was confirmed in the presidency in a referendum in which he supposedly achieved 97.29% of the vote. Official discourse titled him ‘the Hope.’

Propaganda aside, the mild-mannered young heir enjoyed genuine popularity and therefore a long grace period, now entirely squandered. He seemed to promise a continuation of his father’s “Faustian bargain of less freedom for more stability” – not a bad bargain for a country wracked by endless coups before the Assadist state, and surrounded by states at war – while at the same time gradually reforming. Selective liberalisation allowed for a stock market and private banks but protected the public sector patronage system which ensured regime survival. There was even a measure of glasnost, a Damascus Spring permitting private newspapers and political discussion groups. It lasted eight months, and then the regime critics who had been encouraged to speak were exiled or imprisoned. Most people, Lesch included, blamed the Old Guard rather than Bashaar.

“I got to know Assad probably better than anyone in the West,” Lesch writes, and this is probably true. Between 2004 and 2008 he met the dictator frequently. His 2005 book “The New Lion of Damascus” seems in retrospect naively sympathetic. He can be forgiven for this. Most analysts (me included), and most Syrians, continued to give Bashaar the benefit of the doubt until March 2011.

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Robin Yassin-Kassab | October 11, 2012 at 10:12 am | Tags: David Lesch | Categories: book review, Syria | URL:

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