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Posts Tagged ‘bashar al asad’

The Manaf Tlas Defection

July 6th, 2012 Comments off
Close families: Bashar and Manaf

Here is why the Manaf Tlas defection matters: Hafiz al-Asad, father of Bashar al-Asad, and Mustafa Tlas, father of Manaf, met at the Syrian  Military Academy in Homs in the early 1950s and became lifelong friends. During the 1958-61 United Arab Republic, when Egypt and Syria were united, the two men were stationed together in Egypt. When the UAR collapsed, the Nasser regime arrested Asad; Tlas accompanied Asad’s family safely back to Syria. Asad showed his gratitude for the rest of his career; Tlas served as his longtime Defense Minister, despite a penchant for embarrassing comments to the press. Bashar al-Asad has known Tlas’ sons Firas and Manaf all his life. The father, Mustafa Tlas, now 80, is believed to be outside the country; some say he is undergoing medical treatment in Paris. There are reports that Firas, who is a businessman, is also outside the country. But Manaf was a serving military officer, a general. Now he is  in Turkey, a defection, confirmed after a day of rumors, that hits quite close to the Asad family. The elder Tlas, along with former Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, was one of the two visible high-level Sunnis in the largely Alawite regime of Hafiz al-Asad; Khaddam had left the country and broken with Bashar even before the uprising. Now the family that symbolized the presence of Sunnis in the Asad regime has broken with the Asads.

Joshua Landis, who has been very cautious about writing off Bashar, now says, “The Tlas defection sends the sign that the regime is done for.”


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“Surgeon of Damascus” Promises more Blood, Blames West for Syria Violence

June 4th, 2012 Comments off

Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad said Sunday that the 14-month-old attempted revolution in his country is being instigated by outside forces. He defended the bloody crackdown on the rebellion by the regime, saying that when a doctor operates on an eye, we don’t complain about all the blood but rather thank him for saving the victim’s sight (al-Assad was an ophthalmologist). So instead of ‘the Butcher of Damascus’ he is angling for the epithet, “the surgeon of Damascus.”

He went on to blame the protesters and rebels for the killings at the central Syrian town of Houla two Fridays ago, saying it was the work of ‘monsters’.

In contrast, a defecting Air Force officer, Major Jihad Raslan, has told the Western press that he saw Syrian army soldiers give cover to the pro-regime Shabiha thugs who carried much of the massacre in the city, which is a stronghold of opposition to al-Assad. Raslan’s account is corroborated by satellite photos published by the BBC last week.

Aljazeera English has a video report:

Refreshingly, an independent Russian observer, Dr. Aleksandr Shumilin, told a Moscow radio station that al-Assad’s speech, most of which took place in fantasy-land of his creation, is a very bad sign. It is so unrealistic that it may presage an intensification of the conflict. Russian President Vladimir Putin is blocking a UNSC resolution permitting outside intervention in Syria, but some of his own Middle East experts see al-Assad as detached from reality and as provoking the violence (translation courtesy the USG Open Source Center):

‘ Syrian leader’s speech bring military conflict closer – Ruatssian pundit
Ekho Moskvy Radio
Sunday, June 3, 2012
Document Type: OSC Translated Excerpt…

Excerpt from report by Gazprom-owned, editorially independent Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy on 3 June

(Presenter) Syrian President Bashar al-Asad has blamed foreign forces for the armed conflict in the country. Addressing the new parliament, he said that Syria was being pushed towards war. (Passage omitted: excerpt from al-Asad’s speech)

By his speech in parliament, al-Asad spelt the end of political process of settlement of the internal Syrian conflict, director of the Centre for the Analysis of Middle East Conflicts Aleksandr Shumilin believes.

(Shumilin, voice recording) It is clear that this sort of unreasonable assessment of the events will only aggravate the situation, and will, incidentally, serve to justify the opposition’s move to tougher measures, military measures of putting pressure on the regime. They may now start to unite and move towards military plans of in effect ousting the regime. In these efforts, they may well get the support of the Arab countries – not only of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are currently at the forefront of putting pressure on Syria, but also the majority of member states of the Arab League.

(Presenter) Let me remind you that the armed confrontation between government forces and the opponents of al-Asad’s regime has been ongoing for over a year now. According to human rights campaigners, 13,000 people have already lost their lives in the conflict.’

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The "Asad E-Mails"

March 15th, 2012 Comments off

The Guardian has published excerpts of what the Syrian opposition claims to be e-mails of Bashar al-Asad, his wife Asma, and other senior officials. The picture painted is one that tracks with the traditional stereotype of the out-of touch despot: Nero fiddling while Rome burns, Marie Antoinette saying “They have no bread? Let them eat cake!”; Imelda Marcos buying warehouses of shoes. Of course, of those three examples, historians have real doubts about the first two ever having happened, and there may be cause for caution in this case as well.

Genuine or a clever forgery, it’s still fascinating. The document texts are here. The Guardian explains what it has done to verify the genuineness of the e-mails here. The Asads exchange country music lyrics and discuss getting the latest Harry Potter movie (do the Asads cheer for Lord Voldemort?); Asma shops and shops and shops, including for, yes, shoes. And complains about paying VAT. All while the country burns. Asad even lampoons the “reforms” he is publicly promising.

I linked above to The Guardian’s statement of why it believes the e-mails to be genuine, and they are a serious newspaper, not a tabloid. Still, major media have been hoaxed in the past (the Hitler Diaries, the Howard Hughes Memoirs), and one has to wonder if Bashar al-Asad really signs himself as “Sam.” And at the moment, disinformation is flowing on both sides in this conflict.

So do read the e-mails, either as a sign of the out-of-touch aloofness of the besieged tyrant, or just gossip, or perhaps a brilliant hoax. Make your own judgment; I’m suspending mine for the moment.


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Schmidt: The Freedom and Democracy Struggle in Syria

January 19th, 2012 Comments off

Søren Schmidt writes in a guest column for Informed Comment

The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Syria

The nineneteenth-century German chancellor Otto von Bismarck is said to have remarked that the wise statesman listens to the footsteps of history. It seems that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Asad, is tone-deaf and has not understood that it is no longer possible to rule a country solely by military force. But as a former ophthamologist he at least ought to be able to read. For example what researchers from Pepperdine University discovered about the opinions of Syrians in 2010. Their research showed two things:

First of all that the population is divided into a majority (2/3) that is dissatisfied with the government and doesn’t think that the country is progressing, and a minority (1/3) that thinks the country has a good government and is progressing.

Secondly that corruption and lack of political freedom are the two biggest problems in the country, with the economy only coming in third.

I was in Syria myself around the New Year, and was told by almost everyone I spoke to that about 1/3 of the population in the two largest cities, Damascus and Aleppo, still support the government, whereas ½ supports the opposition. In the provincial cities of Homs, Hama, Idlib, Deir Zor and Der’a, almost everyone is against the regime. Several people referred to the bad experiences with “democracy” in Iraq and the vulnerability of the minorities there as the justification for supporting the regime, which they felt was at least tolerable.

But as the regime’s brutal repression of the opposition goes on, more and more regime supporters are being alienated, the number of deserters from the army is increasing and the resolve of the opposition to topple the Asad regime is strengthened. But the balance of power is shifting slowly, and no leading religious authority or anyone from the key military units has gone over to the opposition yet. This means that it may take a long time before the regime is defeated. However, time is on the side of the opposition.

The Pepperdine research showed that only 25% thought that they personally had become worse off during the past year. The rest felt that their situation was either improved or the same as before. Corruption was, however, perceived by almost everyone to have gotten worse, and did not think that they could get a job in the civil service without having connections. During recent years, the Syrian economy has been privatized, but not in a way that ensures everyone a fair chance. Those who benefit are the business people with the right connections to the regime, and therefore it is not without reason that the leading business people have names like Asad, Makhlouf or Shalish – the various branches of the Asad clan.

In Tunisia it was the authorities’ ruthless abuse of power against the fruit seller, which led him to set himself on fire and which, in turn, sparked the Jasmine Revolution. Likewise, according to the people I spoke to, it was the authorities’ brutal and meaningless treatment of the young people who had scribbled anti-regime graffiti in Der’a that triggered the revolt in Syria.

Syrians are modern people. Most of them have internet, mobile phone and satellite TV. They live in cities, most have an education and during the economic growth of the last few years, the majority has seen an increase in its standard of living (according to the World Bank, the average income rose from $3,480 in 2003 to $5,120 in 2010).

Although there are, of course, many reasons for the revolt, the predominant reason does not seem to be economic, but rather that people want the social contract between the state and the citizens to change, so that it is based on freedom and fairness. The citizens are simply not willing to put up with being treated like cattle by the regime any longer. They are tired of corrupt courts and arbitrary treatment by the authorities. They are tired of the fact that lack of democracy means that the state can imprison people illegally for an indefinite period. Lastly, people are tired of the state prioritizing military spending and enrichment of the elite instead of, for example, making sure that children have decent schools (95% think that public schools are bad or mediocre).

It is therefore not collectivist, political ideologies like Islamism or Socialism that inspire Syrians today; rather it is Western core values like freedom and fairness. Freedom made possible by rule of law that protects the individual against abuse by the state or by other people, and fairness in the form of a democracy ensuring that citizens have equal influence on political decisions, equal treatment by the authorities and oversight ensuring that freedoms and rigths are respected.

There are basically two possible resolutions of the conflict in Syria: a compromise between the parties or the victory of one side over the other.

Compromise requires, first of all, that both parties realize that neither one of them can win and they therefore willingly accept a compromise as the next best solution, and, secondly, that a negotiated resolution can be enforced; typically through the involvement of a third party. However, there is no real indication that a compromise is possible. While a negotiated solution was possible until a few months ago, the regime, with its brutal behavior, has burned its bridges behind it so that no one in the opposition talks of negotiations anymore. Furthermore, it is difficult for geo-political reason to see how NATO, the EU, Turkey or The Arab League would be either willing or able to go in and guarantee a peace treaty between the two sides, never mind about intervening militarily to hasten regime change.

What is left is the long hard road ahead before the regime falls. The Free Syrian Army will slowly gain strength and may even be able to establish liberated zones; either in the area near the border with Turkey or in the cities most hostile to the regime, like Homs and Hama. But the Alawi generals in Asad’s key military units already have too much blood on their hands to switch sides.

If, six months ago, Bashar al-Asad had heeded Bismarck’s advice to listen to the footsteps of history, Syria could have been spared much violence and he might even have gone down in history as the country’s first democratic president. Instead he has now been assured a place in history’s garbage dump.

__________
Søren Schmidt is an Associate Professor at Aalborg University, Denmark

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Asad’s Conspiracy Theory

January 11th, 2012 Comments off

I was busy at work on other things today so I’ll drop in this evening to comment on Bashar al-Asad’s strange speech in which he blamed a foreign conspiracy for his problems. Notice the dictators are all using the same playbook: Like Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Qadhafi, it’s all some kind of foreign plot, not domestic opponents. (Well, Qadhafi was being bombed by NATO, so he had a better case.)

But like those men before him, Asad seems increasingly removed from reality. With the UN estimate of dead somewhere the far side of 5000, he’s still hanging tough; even the Arab League observers are starting to notice all is not well.

Anyway, Asad seems intent on staying. There is, however, a lot of speculation about his British-born wife Asma, who hasn’t made any public appearances in a while, and according to some rumors may have decamped to her old home, London.


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Half a Million Syrians Protesting Today?

December 31st, 2011 Comments off

On this protest Friday, there are estimates that half a million Syrians turned out to protest today. The total population is only 22 million or so; if that number is real, or even approximately real, we need to pay close attention in the coming weeks, I think. I suspect that, like the Mayan calendar, Bashar al-Asad’s calendar runs out in 2012.

As noted here, the Syrian protesters are going back to the first post independence flag, with a green stripe in place of the current red, and three stars instead of two. As in Libya, they’re adopting a pre-UAR, pre-Ba‘ath flag as their symbol.


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Syria Teeters: 25 Dead in Protests, 40 Killed in Bombings

December 24th, 2011 Comments off

On Friday afternoon and evening, Friday protests continued in Syria, according to al-Hayat writing in Arabic. The opposition maintains that the Syrian army killed some 25 of the protesters on Friday around the country, who were demanding that the ruling Baath Party relinquish power. The hot spots are by now familiar– Homs, Hama, Deraa, and the outskirts of Damascus.

Two suicide bombers had detonated car bombs on Friday morning in downtown Damascus, killing some 44 persons and wounding 150– according to al-Hayah writing in Arabic. The bombers appeared to have been targeting Syrian domestic intelligence buildings, but many civilians were among the casualties. This sort of massive, targeted violence has been rare since popular protests began in Syria last spring, though military convoys have sometimes been targeted by defectors.

Aljazeera English has a video report:

The regime accused “al-Qaeda” of being behind the bombings, but it is not clear what that could even mean in a Syrian context.

France declined to speculate on the origins of the attacks, but it did complain that the Syrian state had transferred political prisoners to other prisons, as a means of fooling the Arab League monitors expected shortly to arrive in the country

The Syrian National Council, leaders of the current civilian uprising, denied being involved in the bombing, saying that they only have small arms and lack both the ability and the desire to pull off such massive bombings.

Many in the Syrian opposition alleged that the Baathist government of Syria had bombed itself in a false flag operation aimed at discrediting the uprising against the rule of Bashar al-Assad.

The Lebanese Shiite party-militia, Hizbullah (Hezbollah), which strongly supports the government of Bashar al-Asad, accused the United States of being behind the bombings.

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Syria Teeters: 25 Dead in Protests, 40 Killed in Bombs

December 24th, 2011 Comments off

On Friday afternoon and evening, Friday protests continued in Syria, according to al-Hayat writing in Arabic. The opposition maintains that the Syrian army killed some 25 of the protesters on Friday around the country, who were demanding that the ruling Baath Party relinquish power. The hot spots are by now familiar– Homs, Hama, Deraa, and the outskirts of Damascus.

Two suicide bombers had detonated car bombs on Friday morning in downtown Damascus, killing some 44 persons and wounding 150– according to al-Hayah writing in Arabic. The bombers appeared to have been targeting Syrian domestic intelligence buildings, but many civilians were among the casualties. This sort of massive, targeted violence has been rare since popular protests began in Syria last spring, though military convoys have sometimes been targeted by defectors.

Aljazeera English has a video report:
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The regime accused “al-Qaeda” of being behind the bombings, but it is not clear what that could even mean in a Syrian context.

France declined to speculate on the origins of the attacks, but it did complain that the Syrian state had transferred political prisoners to other prisons, as a means of fooling the Arab League monitors expected shortly to arrive in the country

The Syrian National Council, leaders of the current civilian uprising, denied being involved in the bombing, saying that they only have small arms and lack both the ability and the desire to pull off such massive bombings.

Many in the Syrian opposition alleged that the Baathist government of Syria had bombed itself in a false flag operation aimed at discrediting the uprising against the rule of Bashar al-Assad.

The Lebanese Shiite party-militia, Hizbullah (Hezbollah), which strongly supports the government of Bashar al-Asad, accused the United States of being behind the bombings.

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A Year Ago Tomorrow, Mohamed Bouazizi Struck a Match . . .

December 17th, 2011 Comments off

. . . and the fire is still burning. A year ago, on December 17, 2010, an unknown street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi, in the little-known town of Sidi Bouzid. Tunisia, frustrated by his struggle as a street vendor despite having a college degree, hassled by a police officer, poured gasoline over himself and lit a match. He didn’t die until January 4, by which time Tunisia was in turmoil. A year later, Ben Ali and Husni Mubarak are out of their jobs, Qadhafi is dead, Salih in Yemen is transitioning out of power, and Bashar al-Asad is on the ropes.

Have a good weekend.


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Bashar and Barbara Walters: Out of Touch, Delusional, or Just Plain Lying?

December 8th, 2011 Comments off

The headline does not refer to Barbara Walters.

The world’s most famous/notorious ophthalmologist, Bashar al-Asad, talked to ABC news journalist and big-name celebrity interviewer Barbara Walters, and explained that he knew nothing — NOTHING — about these alleged killings of protesters. He also said essentially that he doesn’t  control the security forces, since he doesn’t own Syria, and questioned the validity of some of the videos. (The former head of the Syrian Computer Society must not ever check YouTube.)

Some US officials have suggested he is either out of touch or “delusional,” which I suspect is a diplomatic way of not calling him a bald-faced liar.

He even had an ophthalmologist’s comment at one point:

Assad: No, no, no it’s not news. I met with his father, the father of that child and he said that he wasn’t tortured and he appeared on the media, you have to see, we have to see things with a stereoscopic vision with two eyes, not with one eye to be frank.

Oh, sure, the President who ordered your son tortured asks you if your son was tortured, and is told no. Glad we cleared THAT up.

The whole interview has not yet been aired I think, but here are some excerpts. and the full transcript is available.

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The complete transcript is available here. 

More appeared on Nightline  last night,  but I gather the print transcript is of the whole thing.

My ranking is 1) lying and knows it; 2) genuinely delusional because everyone is lying to him; 3) out of touch.

Some excerpts:

Walters: You don’t know?  

Assad: No. I didn’t hear this story, it’s the first time for the child I met with his father and there were special investigation committee to see if there was torture, there was no torture. This is only false allegations to be frank with you that’s what I said at the very beginning of my message for the media to tell the truth not to listen to rumors.
Walters: Well in the beginning these protests, the women were marching with children carrying olive branches nobody at that point was asking for you to step down. It has escalated. Do you think that your forces cracked down too hard?
Assad: They are not my forces, they are military forces belong to the government.
Walters: OK, but you are the government.
Assad: I don’t own them. I am president. I don’t own the country, so they are not my forces.
Walters: No, but you have to give the order?
Assad: No, no, no. We have, in the constitution, in the law, the mission of the institution to protect the people to stand against any chaos or any terrorists, that their job, according to the constitution to their– to the law of the institution.
Walters: The crackdown was without your permission?
Assad: Would you mind, what do you mean by crackdown?
Walters: The, the reaction to the people, the some of the murders some of the things that happened?
Assad: No, there is a difference between having policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials, there is a big difference. For example, when you talk about policy it’s like what happened in Guantanamo when you have policy of torture for example we don’t have such a policy to crack down or to torture people, you have mistakes committed by some people or we heard we have some allegations about mistakes, that is why we have a special committee to investigate what happened and then we can tell according to the evidences we have mistakes or not. But as a policy, no.
Walters: Have there been mistakes made in this crackdown, yes?
Assad: Yes, for one reason because we don’t, when you don’t prepare yourself for new situation you are going to make mistakes.
Walters: OK, have the people who made the mistakes been found accountable, have they been punished?
Assad: Some of them yes, according to the evidences, but you cannot puni–, punish anyone according to rumors or allegations so this is judicial committee independent judicial committee, it’s, it’s, uh, job to detain people if they are guilty and to send them to the court for prosecution.
Walters: So some people have been found accountable?
Assad: Yes, according to my knowledge from the very beginning.
Walters: Last week an independent United Nations Commission who interviewed more than two hundred and twenty five people issued a report what it said was that your government committed crimes against humanity and they went on torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence against protesters including against children, what do you say to them, I mean what I am saying again and again is that protesters were, were beaten, things happened to them, um, do you acknowledge that, do you acknowledge what the U.N. said?
Assad: Very simply I would say send us the documents and the concrete evidences that you have and we will see if that is true or not, you have not offered allegations now.
Walters: Did the U.N. not send you these documents?
Assad: Nothing at all.
Walters: You mean the first you’re hear–
Assad: They didn’t say. They don’t have even the names, who are the rape people or who are the tortured people who are they, we don’t have any names, they didn’t.


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