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“It seems they got better in tracking satellite mobiles” PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Joshua Landis   
Monday, 09 May 2011 13:18

Communications have been key to the Arab Spring. The Syrian uprising is no exception. Facebook, Youtube and Twitter have been huge. The Syrian crackdown is compromising many of those medium. As more activists are arrested, passwords will be revealed and opposition networks exposed, allowing the government to arrest leaders of the uprising and track down opposition cells. Anthony Shadid reports that the satellite phones that provided the main secure link between activists and journalists in Beirut and those leading the revolution inside Syria are now falling quite.

Syria Broadens Deadly Military Crackdown on Protesters
Published: May 8, 2011

BEIRUT — A military crackdown on Syria’s seven-week uprising broadened Sunday, with reinforcements sent to two cities under siege and more forces deployed in a town in a restive region in the south of the country, activists and human rights groups said. Fourteen were killed in Homs, the groups said, and hundreds reported arrested.

The crackdown — from the Mediterranean coast to the poor steppe of southern Syria — seemed to mark a decisive turn in an uprising that has posed the gravest challenge to the 11-year rule of President Bashar al-Assad. Even though government officials have continued to hint at reforms, and even gingerly reached out to some dissidents last week, the crackdown seemed to signal the government’s intent to end the uprising by force.

At least 30 tanks were said to be inside Baniyas, one of Syria’s most restive locales, where the military entered Saturday. Activists and human rights groups said they had almost no information about the coastal town of 50,000, but one activist said at least six people were killed and 250 arrested since the operation began.

Fighting was also reported in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, where tanks entered Friday. Wissam Tarif, the executive director of Insan, a Syrian human rights group, said that 14 people had been killed there, but he could not confirm the casualties in Baniyas. He said that the military had also entered Tafas, a town in southern Syria.

“This is a campaign that’s going to more cities,” he said. “It’s escalating and it’s very worrying because they’re also getting better at isolating these places.”

He said that his group had documented the arrest of 750 people, most of them in the suburbs of Damascus, but he had no precise figures for Homs and Baniyas.

Since the beginning of the uprising, Syria has barred most foreign journalists, and many accounts have relied on groups like Mr. Tarif’s and networks of activists inside the country. But Mr. Tarif complained that his group was almost entirely unable to speak with people in both Homs and Baniyas. Even satellite phones that protest organizers had sought to smuggle into towns and cities across Syria were not working, he said.

“It seems they got better in tracking satellite mobiles,” he said.

The uprising began last month with protests in Dara’a, a town near the border with Jordan. The protesters gathered after security forces had arrested and mistreated high school students for scrawling anti-government graffiti on walls. The protests soon spread across the country, with successive Fridays witnessing thousands in the streets in dozens of towns.

فعل بناء المواطنة وعدم حتمية انتصار الثورة السورية
التحدي الأكبر الذي تواجهه الثورة السورية هو عدم انضمام الطوائف الأخرى الأقل عدداً إلى صفوف المنادين بالحرية. ولنكن صريحين مع أنفسنا، ما زال الطابع السني يطغى على هذا الحراك (يوجد الكثير من الطوائف والأديان الأخرى منخرطة بالانتفاضة لكنهم لا يمثلون نسبة معتبرة من طوائفهم)، هذا لا يعني أنه يجب على كل ملايين الشعب السوري أن تخرج إلى الشوارع وتنادي بالحرية. ومهما ازداد عدد المتظاهرين تبقى الانتفاضة منقوصة في حال عدم تلونها بألوان الطيف السوري كله ويصبح هناك خطر حقيقي على انتصارها. هل قلنا مواطنة؟

Landis and Seale on Prosepects for a Government Comeback

Antigovernment protesters gathered Friday after noon prayer in the coastal town of Baniyas, Syria, in a cellphone photo provided by an onlooker.
Anthony Shadid gives the best assessment today
Protests Across Syria Despite Military Presence
May 6, 2011 New York Times

The worst violence was reported in Homs, Syria’s third largest city, where activists described a chaotic, bloody day, as tanks entered the town. The government said 10 soldiers had been killed there by what it described as “terrorists,” while activists said at least 9 soldiers had defected to their side. Sixteen protesters were killed, they said.

“We answered the call to protest today, but the intelligence forces attacked us right away by opening fire on us,” said a resident in Homs, reached by telephone.

Another resident there said the security forces fired without provocation.

“They took us by surprise,” he said by phone, over the sound of gunfire.

Both sides in the seven-week struggle claimed victories of sorts on Friday. Thousands of demonstrators gathered again in dozens of towns and cities, despite the government’s deployment of security and military forces from the Mediterranean coast to the steppe in southern Syria. But the crackdown seemed to have slowed the force of the protests, and even some of the government’s opponents acknowledged that crowds may have been smaller than on past Fridays.

“The protests can’t get the momentum to increase the numbers on the ground, as we saw in Egypt and Tunisia,” said Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian human rights advocate and visiting scholar at George Washington University in Washington. “The collective punishment of cities, mass arrests and the tactics of snipers have created some fear.”

President Bashar al-Assad, who inherited power from his father, Hafez, in 2000, initially claimed that Syria was immune to the tumult sweeping the Arab world. When the uprising erupted in Dara’a, a poor town near the Jordanian border, he initially responded with a mix of crackdown and concessions that proved largely rhetorical. For the past two weeks, the government has relied almost entirely on force to crush dissent, and there appears to be a sense in official circles that the government has gained the upper hand.

Over the past week, opposition figures said, Butheina Shaaban, an adviser to Mr. Assad, has reached out to some dissidents. One of them, Michel Kilo, said he met with Ms. Shaaban on Thursday and insisted that a dialogue could begin only after an end to the crackdown, recognition of the right to protest and agreement on a political solution to the crisis.

“I didn’t go to hold dialogue,” he said. “I went to express my opinion.”

Other opposition figures dismissed the tentative outreach and pointed to the arrests of two government opponents — Riad al-Seif, a former member of Parliament ailing with prostate cancer who was jailed twice in 2002, and Mouaz al-Khatib, a prominent Muslim cleric. Mr. Khatib was arrested Thursday, and Mr. Seif on Friday, after attending a small protest in the capital, Damascus, outside the Hassan Mosque that was quickly dispersed.

“These are maneuvers,” said Burhan Ghalioun, a Syrian scholar and director of the Center for Contemporary Oriental Studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. “They are maneuvering, and they are playing with the opposition to try to break its ranks.”

Obama administration officials say that while some figures in the Syrian leadership, Ms. Shaaban and Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa among them, seem to favor at least some reform, hard-liners in the leadership are ascendant. In the past two weeks, the military has been deployed in force to Dara’a, Baniyas on the Mediterranean coast and Rastan, a town near Homs. Thousands have been arrested, particularly in Dara’a and towns on the capital’s outskirts.

But officials say the ire of France and, in particular, Turkey, which had emerged as one of Syria’s closest allies, has worried the Syrian leadership. So has the threat of international action. On Friday, the European Union decided to impose a travel ban and a freeze of assets of 14 Syrian officials, though Mr. Assad was excluded.

“The government has been saying this will be over in two to three weeks,” an administration official said in Washington. “They seem to think they have control over the situation, that it’s dying down, but we don’t really understand why they think that.”

The toll on Friday paled before that of past weeks, especially April 22, when more than 100 people were killed as security forces opened fire on demonstrations across the country…..

With the Western media focused on bin Laden, the situation in Syria has been deteriorating
Justin Elliott of

While the U.S. media has been focused on Libya, the president’s birth certificate and Osama bin Laden, a dramatic and brutal showdown has been unfolding between the government of Syria and opposition protesters.

An estimated 500 to 600 civilians have been killed in the 50-day uprising, and forces of the Bashar al-Assad regime have repeatedly opened fire on protesters. Part of the reason for the lack of American media coverage is that Western reporters were expelled from the country early on, and most are now covering the situation from neighboring Lebanon.

For an update on the uprising and a take on the Obama administration’s Syria policy, I spoke to Joshua Landis, a professor at the University of Oklahoma and the proprietor of the well-respected blog Syria Comment.

Who makes up the opposition?

Well we know a certain sliver of the opposition well because there are a number of activists who have been supported by U.S. pro-democracy money for five years now. They’ve been working away developing websites and expertise on democratic transformation. They are very liberal, pro-American — everything that America likes. But we don’t know how big or important that group of liberals is. Civil society in Syria has been so severely restricted. Not as much as it had been in Iraq, but it’s not far from that scale. So we don’t know how powerful various parties would become if we take a lid off.

The strength of the opposition is that has no leadership, and therefore the leadership cannot be easily snuffed out. It is led by young activists in their 20s and early 30s who are determined and who have until very recently been able to keep the opposition focused on liberal slogans about freedom, unity, peace, anti-corruption, and regime change. They’ve shown great courage in the face of a very tough repression. But the great weakness of the opposition is that they have no leadership. There are no faces that people can identify with, and no personalities to reassure the silent majority that the future is going to be handled in a way that they would find acceptable.

Describe the new sanctions on Syria imposed by the Obama administration.

Well America already has several sets of sanctions. Sanctions because it is a terror-supporting state, according to the U.S. Primarily because it supports Hezbollah and Hamas. Sanctions placed by President Bush against people who interfere in Lebanon and people who are corrupt. And now Obama has added another lawyer, against the leaders of Syria’s security state, who are most directly responsible for clamping down on the protests. The effect of the sanctions overall has been to slow down the Syrian economy and to put the Syrians on a diet, to reduce their incomes. Sanctions scare away foreign investment. But the new sanctions so far are more symbolic than they are meaningful.

So has the administration had a consistent policy throughout this crisis?

The policy has been to show horror at the brutal treatment of the protesters, to denounce Syria’s actions, but not to do anything that would make it incumbent on the U.S. to intervene militarily as it did in Libya. There, Obama said that Gadhafi had to go. And once he said that, the pressure mounted quickly for the U.S. to do something. But Libya is 6 million people. Syria is 22 million. It is an ethnically and religiously divided society, like in Iraq. If the regime is toppled, it’s quite likely there would be a civil war. And if that happens, the calls for intervention will be very hard to resist.

There have been more and more criticisms from Republican leaders that the Obama administration has been too soft on Syria. Where is this coming from? Is this all about Israel?

It is largely about Israel. U.S. interest in Syria has almost always been a subset of the U.S.-Israel relationship. We have sanctions on Syria because it is part of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and they are trying to get their occupied territory — the Golan Heights — back. So they look for allies in the fight against Israel, and this makes them our enemy.

You mentioned the courage the protesters have shown. The numbers of dead seem quite high. How bad has the crackdown been?

There’s been 500 and 600 dead. The Syrian government has shot at people. They haven’t let the demonstrations grow. If you adjust for population, in Bahrain, the government killed twice as many of its citizens. They were given a pass, their ambassador was invited to the royal wedding in London. That’s because America has oil interests in the Gulf and wants to please Saudi Arabia, and America doesn’t care as much about Shiite dead because it doesn’t like Iran.

Have the demonstrations been entirely non-violent?

No. There have been about 80 Syrian soldiers that have been shot. The opposition claims that Syrian soldiers were shot by other government forces. But this has never been proven and is unlikely. The government is saying they are being shot by armed elements — either Salafists or Al Qaeda-type people, or just those that want to destabilize Syria. That argument wins sympathy from many Syrians. But many others want to see revolution. The country is split down the middle, along religious lines — like Iraq was.

Which side has the momentum right now?

The state. The chances are quite high that the Syrian government will be able to beat back the opposition because the government has a monopoly of power. The army and the security forces have remained loyal to the president. They have not split as they did in Libya. They have not turned on the president as they did in Egypt.

But if the regime does collapse, the state institutions will collapse, as they did in Iraq. Syria is a one-party state, which is the Baath Party. If the opposition takes over the government, the Baath Party will be purged. The state institutions like the military, the intelligence forces, and the Republican Guard will all be disbanded and perhaps some of the leadership will be tried. One can expect close to 2 million people losing their jobs or being affected directly by this. They’re going to fight to keep their privileges and their position, just as the Sunnis in Iraq fought. This would turn into a sectarian war. The slogans of freedom, although important, conceal a sectarian split in the country.

That scenario seems grim. Is there a possible positive outcome and what would it look like?

There is a possible positive outcome, which is that Bashar al-Assad remains in power and yet carries out deep reforms. That’s what a number of people are hoping for, that he will become humble and realize that in order to bring peace to Syria he’s going to have to enact deep reforms.

But based on what he’s doing right now, it would seem like things are going in the opposition direction.

Is This the End of the Assad Dynasty?
By Patrick SealeGreat clamour for change has arisen in more than a dozen Syrian cities in recent weeks. Has the time come for President Bashar al-Assad to give way to pressure from the street and perhaps even to bow out altogether? Asks Patrick Seale.

….The difficult and perilous task Bashar now faces is nothing less than the profound restructuring — under great popular pressure — of a fossilised system of governance inherited from his father, but which is no longer appropriate to the modern age, and no longer tolerated by the bulk of the population. Like other Arabs, Syrians want real political freedoms, the release of political prisoners, an independent judiciary, the punishment of corrupt bigwigs, a free press, a new law on political parties allowing for genuine pluralism (and the cancellation of article 8 of the constitution which enshrines the Ba’ath Party as “the leader of state and society”), and an end, once and for all, to arbitrary arrest, police brutality and torture.

Can Bashar meet these demands? Does he have the will and ability to do so? Can he hope to prevail over the entrenched interests of his extended family, of his intelligence and army chiefs, of powerful figures in his Alawite community, of rich Sunni merchants of Damascus traditionally allied to the Assad family, and of the small but powerful “new bourgeoisie,” made rich by the transition from a state-controlled to a market-oriented economy, over which he has himself presided in the past decade? All these disparate forces want no change in a system which has brought them privilege and wealth. Above all, can Bashar change the brutal methods of his police and security forces? Could anyone in just a few weeks hope to change habits of repression ingrained over half a century, and indeed far longer? (For autocracy is not an Assad invention.)

The Bashar years

Until the outbreak of the crisis, Bashar al-Assad had little or nothing of the menacing pose of a traditional Arab dictator. His manner was modest and, at 45, he looked astonishingly young. His tall willowy frame has none of the robustness of a fighter, while his gaze, questioning and often perplexed, has none of the certainties of a man born to power. He was a young doctor studying ophthalmology in London when the accidental death in 1994 of his elder brother, Basil, an altogether tougher character who was being groomed for the succession, propelled him somewhat reluctantly onto the political scene.

The country he came to rule in 2000 seemed backward in an increasingly globalised and technologically advanced world. His first reforms were therefore financial and commercial. Mobile phones and the internet were introduced. Private schools and universities proliferated. In 2004 private banks and insurance companies were allowed to operate for the first time, and a stock exchange was opened in March 2009. A political and economic alliance was forged with Turkey (and visas abolished), which allowed trade to grow along that border, benefiting Aleppo. The Old City of Damascus was revitalised, ancient courtyard houses restored and hotels and restaurants opened to cater for the growing number of tourists. Before the crisis erupted, Syria was negotiating to join the World Trade Organisation and conclude an association agreement with the European Union.

But Bashar’s years in power seem to have hardened him. He developed a taste for control — control over the media, over the university, over the economy (through cronies such as his exorbitantly rich cousin Rami Makhlouf), control over society at large. Free expression is not allowed. Political decision-making is restricted to a tight circle around the president and security services. Like his father, Bashar clearly does not like to be pushed around or to seem to yield to pressure. Even so, many Syrians still support him in the belief that, as an educated, modern and secular ruler, he is better placed than most to bring about necessary change.

At the time of writing, Bashar still seems to have a chance, if a slim one, of stabilising the situation and perhaps earning a further spell in power — but only if he calls a halt to the killing of protesters and takes the lead of the reform movement, and in effect carries out a silent coup against the hardliners.

But it may well be too late for that. Indeed, Bashar may already have lost authority to men like his brother, Maher al-Assad, commander of the regime’s Republican Guard, who seems to advocate crushing the protests by force. If the army and the security services remain loyal, it will be difficult for the opposition to unseat the regime. But there have been ominous rumours of army defections as well as reports that some members of the Ba’ath Party have resigned…..

some Islamists still dream of revenge, while minorities such as the Alawites fear that if the regime were to fall, they would be massacred in turn. Emerging from underground, the Muslim Brothers have now called on the people to join the protests. The cry for freedom risks being drowned by sectarian strife.

Such has been Bashar al-Assad’s harsh apprenticeship. He has had to surmount a series of regime-threatening crises much like those his father confronted in his time. Both Assads felt some satisfaction at managing to survive them and thus provide Syria with a measure of stability and security, especially compared with Iraq and Lebanon. There was, however, a price to pay. Having to live and survive in a hostile environment inevitably conferred great powers on the security services, guardians of the regime — to the increasing resentment of ordinary Syrians. A dialogue of the deaf ensued. The Assads’ intense preoccupation with external crises led them to neglect the internal scene. Who would need political freedoms, they no doubt thought, if given the benefits of security and stability? As the regime’s official daily newspaper Tishrin wrote on 25 April: “The most sublime form of freedom is the security of the nation.”

The recent explosion of popular anger has evidently taken Bashar by surprise, as it did other Arab autocrats. He has had to wrench his attention away from the perils and excitements of foreign policy to urgent challenges at home. To devise and implement far-reaching domestic reforms, as the present situation urgently demands, will require a radical change of focus. It will not be easy, and a favourable outcome is far from certain. Bashar now faces an internal threat to his regime at least as dangerous as any of the external threats he and his father confronted so successfully.

Yes, it does seem that way. And in order to enforce his control, he’s going to resort to greater sectarian divide-and-rule, which will ultimately weaken Syria and eliminate the possibility of deep reforms. So this looks like a lose-lose situation.

Day 53 of the Syrian Uprising; over Six Killed; Fewer Demonstrators; Clinton Says Reform Still Possible

Death tolls for this Friday have been hard to quantify, according to the Guardian. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least six people had been shot dead after security forces opened fire in Homs and Hama. The National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria put the toll at 16 people nationwide.

Secretary of State Clinton said that reform was still possible in Syria. She seems to be giving Assad more time.

The death toll since the beginning of the uprising seven weeks ago is high at about 550 but still remains almost half of the death toll in Bahrain as a percent of citizens. In Egypt, over 800 were killed, which is about half of Syria’s toll given that Egypt’s population is over three times that of Syria’s. In Tunisia 219 protesters were killed during the uprising. Tunisia’s population is less than half of Syria’s at 10 million. In Yemen, about 125 people have now been killed. In Libya, The civilian death toll from the war is already estimated in the thousands, while streams of desperate refugees keep pouring into Tunisia, Egypt and Europe.

Syrian state television said an army officer and four policemen were shot dead by a “criminal gang” in Homs.

About 80 of Syria’s deaths are soldiers, security, and police according to Syrian government sources. Many more have been arrested as the government tries to track down the leadership networks and activists who have been organizing demonstrations. One of the main activists in Deraa, who was reporting by satellite phone throughout the confrontations was recently killed.

The opposition claim that Syrian security forces are responsible for shooting teh 80 dead soldiers. They claim that cracks are developing in military loyalty and soldiers are being executed for refusing to shoot on protesters. I have yet to see a reliable report of this.

One journalist writes: “I can’t stand these contradicting sources. As a journalist, it is a HUGE HEADACHE!!! Am jubilant right now because the paper decided to drop the article on Syria today. Didn’t know what to write!!! Press agencies talk about tanks around Damascus and elsewhere, friends from there see no trace of them. Thank God I don’t have to write!!!

Red Cross/Red Crescent report from Daraa

Today as a true eye witness and a Red Crescent FACT team (field assessment and coordination Team) we did an assessment Visit to Daraa city situation and brought some aid items and baby food with us, we also came up with the needs which we are working on for-filling ASAP.

some highlights from the report :

No mass destruction was noticed, water and electricity is available to almost all of Daraa, some shortage in food but not life threatening, army is distributing bread and essential materials to places since most of the shops are closed, shortage in some medicines because the pharmacies among with the shops are closed, water not reaching high floors since no electricity in some places to power the personal pumps, their maybe people whom are afraid to visit the national hospital so SARC will provide mobile clinic for those people in old part of Daraa city ASAP.

An opposition member reports: Day 53 of the Syrian Revolution; Friday of defiance.

Today’s protests in: Ankhel, Jasem, Sanamein, Zabadani, Daraiya, Harasta, Kisweh, Nawa, Al Tal, Barzah, Damascus (Meydan, Saliheiya, sit Zaynab, Hajar Aswad), Homs, Hama, Tal Kalakh, Baniyas, Jableh, Lattakiya, Al Bab, Idlib, Me’arit Nu’man, Salamiyah, Qamishly, Ain Al Arab, Hasakeh, Jisr Al Shoghoor….. (Despite the suffocating repression with live bullets and the threat of shabiey7a thugs..etc..)

Interesting tweets from Ben Wedeman (CNN legendary correspondent in Cairo):

“Good Egyptian source just back from Washington says israel is syrian regime’s most ardent advocate with congress, Obama administration.” Amid Syria’s turmoil, Israel sees Assad as the lesser evil

A regime supporter writes:

Aside from Homs, the total of people who demonstrated in Syria today was less than 5000. In Damascus there were about 500 protesters in the Islamist stronghold of Maydan.

In Banias, Al-Jazeera claimed that there were 10,000, but in the images they showed it was obvious that the protesters were less than a thousand people.

About 500 Kurds demonstrated in the northeast. The Kurdish demonstrations are the only demonstrations that can be called civil and I am glad that they all ended peacefully. The Kurdish demonstrations were the only demonstrations that had clear political demands and they were not motivated by sectarian or even ethnic motives as it appears from their slogans and the quality of people who participated.

In Aleppo as usual there were many failed attempts to start demonstrations. None of them gathered more than a 100 people.

Angry Arab writes: Al-Jazeera “clearly wants to have a day of rage and protests in Syria: so they keep airing the same phone video footage.  They tell viewers that there were massive demonstrations, and then you count like 40 or 50 in the protests.

Khaddam: ‘I expect the Syrian army to topple Assad!’ Friday Lunch Club

From NZ in Comment Section (5 May 2011)

For those who are talking in sectarian terms and saying that Christians are not interested in regime change are wrong.

Every one wishes a free Syria without bloodshed. The way this regime dealt with the latest unrest will no doubt have an organized opposition. They can not be given the benefit of doubt, no more. Their actions spoke volume. The autocratic management style of this regime will end up uglier than any other. Change is imminent. With millions, with or without tanks, they dug out there ending. They are exposed nationally and internationally. Game over.

From John Khouri in Comment Section (5 May 2011)

N.Z – I’m a Christian living in Homs and have relatives living in Aleppo And Damascus and Deir el Zor. I find it absolutely outrageous that people like yourself say that Christians want regime change. Stop speaking on behalf of the Christians of Syria. Come to Syria and see what is happening on the ground. My cousin’s wife in Daraa has packed up and moved in with us in Homs. The Christians in Daraa have had their churches firebombed for not participating in the anti-government demonstrations. Their priest has been threatened with his life. Wake up to ourselves. In Homs, all church ceremonies have been kept indoors due to the fact that thugs from Khaldieh and Bab el Omr keep entering the Hamadieh Christian area and screaming sectarian slogans throughout the night. 99.9% of Christians support the current Syrian government. All these so called freedom demonstrations have been hijacked by Islamists and Salafi’s. Stop being in denial and stop trying to promote these freedom demonstrations, which is completely opposite from the reality on the ground.

How the Syrian Government Refuses to do Public Relations

The United Group, which has been contracted by the Syria Government to help spread their message is not a PR company according to one friend who knows people there. It is a small (in regional standards) media and publishing company. The Syrian government is for some reason allergic to professional PR. The Syria Trust (associated with Assma) was the only entity to hire PR to promote their work. Now the Trust seems to be on hold and the PR guy in NYC, who was helping on the now postponed April 4-6 Historical Culture event, contacted Syria to see if the want help now. The answer was a predictable NO.

Construction and design of several worthy projects meant to boost tourism and promote Syrian culture are on hold such as Masar Al Thaqafi Al Suri and a planned modern arts Museum. Many big Gulf companies are pulling out or putting their work on hold because of the uprising and because their partners are none other than Rami and Maher associates.

Syria’s political crisis puts it on edge of economic precipice
Phil Sands
Last Updated: May 6, 2011

DAMASCUS //At a staff meeting this week, employees at a small but successful private company in Damascus were told they would be working without pay this month, a sign of gathering economic storm clouds, as Syria struggles with a grave political crisis.

According to one of the workers, managers announced pay would be halted for most staff members immediately, with employees asked to stay on effectively as volunteers in order to keep the firm ticking over. Crucially, no timetable was set for when payment of salaries would be resumed.

“They said they didn’t know when things would be back to normal, and that it would depend on what happened on Friday,” he said, on condition of anonymity. He also asked the company not be named because it has made no public announcement of the decision.

“If things are quiet on Friday, maybe it will be OK,” the employee said. “But if it’s another one like we had last week, then I’ll probably lose my job entirely. I expect that to happen.”

The Syrian authorities have been insisting all is well, projecting an air of confidence and normality, and trying to allay any sense of panic that the country might be teetering on the brink of an economic precipice, after more than six weeks of political unrest that has shaken the nation……

Hizbollah’s Most Serious Challenge
By Randa Slim Tuesday, May 3, 2011 – in Foreign Policy

The popular uprisings in Syria represent the most serious challenge to Hezbollah since the 2006 war with Israel. A regime change in Syria would threaten a major arms supply route to Hezbollah; deny the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis its Arab linchpin; weaken Hezbollah’s deterrence capacities vis-à-vis Israel; and deny the Hezbollah leaders and their families a safe haven when they feel threatened by Israel, as was the case in 2006. This poses a unique challenge to Hezbollah, which had comfortably sided with the revolts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain. When Hezbollah’s Iranian mentor Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour was dismissed from his official post last April because of his sympathies with the Iranian opposition, Hezbollah was silent despite a heated debate inside the party ranks. The uprisings in Syria pose a challenge similar to the one they faced with the 2009 repression of the Green Movement in Iran.

How does Hezbollah really view the prospect of regime change in Damascus? In a recent round of interviews I conducted with Hezbollah officials in Beirut, all those I spoke to agreed that a regime change in Syria would not occur easily or peacefully. So far, Hezbollah officials believe that Bashar al Assad will survive. They believe that unlike Hosni Mubarak or Zein Ben Ali, Assad still enjoys a wide base of support especially in major cities like Damascus and Aleppo. As a senior Hezbollah official pointed out, “Alawites and Christians will not abandon Bashar.” The Assad regime and its wide base of support, they said, will fight back. Should Bashar al Assad fail to rein in the protests quickly, they fear a protracted civil war that would engulf Syria, spill over into Lebanon, especially in the north, and destabilize other countries in the region, including Turkey. Above all, even more than the loss of military and financial supply lines, these Hezbollah leaders fear a mortal blow to the “Resistance Axis” which has been central to their place in the Middle East.

While Syrian President Bashar al Assad was initially taken back by the protests, he and his close associates quickly closed ranks and opted for brute force to deal with future protests. Hezbollah’s reading of the Assad speech made on April 16 is that while responding to the people’s demands by offering a series of reform measures mainly focused on the lifting of the emergency law, Assad also made it clear that further protests will be met with an iron fist. Hezbollah officials to whom I spoke viewed the internal opposition as old, disorganized and decimated by years spent in Syrian jails. If regime change were to happen soon, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is the only organized political force in the country and would likely emerge as the main power broker in the country.

Hezbollah officials now believe that negotiations between the regime and the protest movement can no longer be expected to occur. They further argue that the critical factor in other Arab revolutions was the neutral role played by the army. In the case of Syria, they believe that the army still sides with the regime. It has yet to show signs of dissension, especially at the top levels. When questioned about the possibility of an internal coup d’etat led by an Alawite army official, these Hezbollah officials discounted this scenario – as one of them put it, chiefly for lack of an acceptable alternative to Bashar al Assad. They also pointed out that both Alawites and Christians fear the consequences to themselves of a Sunni take-over. A protracted civil war in Syria would eventually lead to a break-up of Syria into a number of mini-states divided among the country’s three major religious and ethnic groups: Alawites, Sunnis, and Kurds…. (an important article. Read the entire thing.)

Untangling Dictators’ Webs
By Brendan Greeley and Nicole Gaouette, BW Magazine

The State Dept. is funding tools to help online activists abroad

Antigovernment protesters in Syria have a hard time reaching the outside world, since the government selectively blocks cell-phone coverage in protest areas, and most use a slow dial-up Internet connection. Some of them rely on a contact overseas. The Syrian, who has seen the inside of prisons before and asked that his name not be printed, receives video files from activists in Daraa. The Syrian helps format the videos and posts them to YouTube. He’s exactly the kind of person the State Dept. would like to help right now: a pro-reform dissident, enabling others to get their story out through the Internet. But the Syrian is skeptical.

As the Administration struggles to keep up with the pace of change in the Arab world, the State Dept. is set to announce $28 million in grants for tools and training to help activists like the Syrian and his compatriots interact and organize online. The grants are a way to combat “repression 2.0,” as Michael Posner, the Assistant Secretary of State for the agency’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, puts it. Autocrats and their intelligence operatives are increasingly turning to social media and sophisticated technologies to track and infiltrate dissident groups. Before the fall of dictator Ben Ali, for instance, Tunisian authorities uploaded phony Facebook and Gmail login pages with the aim of stealing the passwords of activists. In the past, U.S. officials thought that if dissidents could simply get to Facebook, Twitter, and other unrestricted sites on the open Web, they could organize themselves. Posner now says that training activists to avoid traps and giving them the tools to stay safe in digital environments is “perhaps the most critical part” of countering online repression.

According to Posner, State has already held training sessions for 5,000 digital activists around the world, including one in February in Beirut that brought together participants from Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria. The sessions, quietly run by local organizations, teach participants which websites and technologies are most vulnerable to government monitoring—and which government-seeded rumors about technology are false. Daniel B. Baer, the deputy assistant secretary in the democracy bureau, says that in one country, the government spread rumors that police took screenshots of every computer every five minutes. Baer says State pays for travel to a safe place for the training and describes the program as “an underground railroad of trust.”

The agency has already awarded about $22 million in Internet freedom grants and plans to raise the total to $50 million by the summer. The current round of grants will largely be dedicated to building the kind of digital tools activists need. To keep up with both activists and governments, the State Dept. will have to start acting more like a venture capitalist, says Posner, doling out seed money to developers.

Katrin Verclas runs, a New York-based nonprofit. MobileActive has received State funding to build a “panic button” that allows activists, if arrested or pursued, to send a text message to a group of contacts in a way that doesn’t show up on the phone’s call log. The app also erases potentially incriminating data. MobileActive developed the tool to run on Java-enabled phones, such as BlackBerrys and the low-end Nokia phones that overseas activists are more likely to own. The group has made the code freely available and hopes to develop a community to sustain it. An Android version is in the works. “It’s like having a baby,” says Verclas, “you need to keep feeding it.”

Not everyone is eager to take State’s money, particularly when it’s for on-the-ground training. The Syrian, for one, doubts that the money always makes it to the right people. He’s seen foreign aid go to groups with no domestic credibility and seen other groups quietly take U.S. funding and then denounce America. Several other Internet activists reached by phone last week expressed similar sentiments. Hisham Almiraat, a Moroccan blogger based in France who asked to be identified by his pen name, traveled to a conference in Budapest in 2010 that was funded in part by the State Dept. He faced criticism online for attending. “Your credibility, your online reputation, becomes fundamental to your work,” he says. “We cannot afford to be seen as agents.”

The latest Middle Eastern anxiety — America spreading its influence over the Middle East through the Muslim Brotherhood. The new strategy of the US: Using the MB Sunni ‘newlook’ to counter the Iran Shia influence in the region.

La Syrie reste au cœur des spéculations
Par Scarlett HADDAD | 06/05/2011, L’Orient-Le Jour

…..Certains analystes estiment à cet égard que la nouvelle stratégie de l’administration américaine reposerait justement sur l’utilisation des Frères musulmans dans l’ensemble du monde arabe pour combattre l’Iran et ses alliés. Ces analystes ajoutent que maintenant qu’ils se sont débarrassés d’Oussama Ben Laden, les Américains peuvent de nouveau miser sur le courant islamiste pour juguler l’influence iranienne au Moyen-Orient. Ils auraient confié la mission de rendre les Frères musulmans « fréquentables » au parti au pouvoir en Turquie qui représente un islam moderne jugé tout à fait acceptable par l’administration américaine. Cette dernière devait toutefois auparavant frapper un grand coup pour justifier le recours à ces organisations longtemps considérées comme terroristes et non fiables. Ce fut la mort de Ben Laden, considéré comme l’ennemi public numéro 1 des Américains et de la communauté internationale en général.

Les États-Unis ont pendant des années justifié leur appui au régime de Hosni Moubarak en Égypte par le fait que la seule relève possible est formée des Frères musulmans. Ces derniers s’apprêtent aujourd’hui à se lancer dans la prochaine bataille électorale en réclamant la moitié des sièges au Parlement, après avoir formé un parti officiellement laïc, comme l’exige la Constitution du pays. En parallèle, les Frères musulmans de Syrie, qui se sont choisi un nouveau leader, Riyad Chakfa, ont le champ libre à partir d’Istanbul. Championne de l’islam à visage acceptable pour les Américains, la Turquie serait ainsi visiblement appelée à remplacer l’Égypte comme leader des pays musulmans proaméricains dans la région. En même temps, les États-Unis ont rapidement réussi à démanteler ce qui était considéré comme l’axe fort de la région et qui était formé de la Turquie, de la Syrie, de l’Iran et du Qatar. Le Qatar s’est ainsi aligné sur la politique turque qui, elle, ne dissimule pas ses critiques à l’égard du régime syrien…..

Katherine Marsh on the Gay Girl in Damascus blogger that SC highlighted last week.

Hariri Tribunal prosecutor amends indictment – Jpost

Tunisia’s ousted leader charged over shooting deaths…. An arrest warrant has been issued for Tunisia’s former interior minister, Rafik Belhaj Kacem, on charges of murder,

Egyptian Head of Security Tried

In a packed courtroom, a Cairo judge sentenced the former security henchman to seven years for corruption and five years for money laundering, and fined him 15m Egyptian pounds ($2.5m). But Adly still faces the much graver charge of giving the order to kill civilians during the 18-day uprising, as well as misusing public funds. If convicted, he could face the death penalty. “This is just an appetiser,” wrote Khaled Tawfeek on a Facebook page commemorating an activist who died in police custody. “Let’s hold our breath [for] when he falls for killing protesters.”

Adly has been held along with roughly 30 senior members of the old regime, including the deposed prime minister and Mr Mubarak’s two sons, following the uprising. Most face corruption charges, but some will face allegations related to the handling of the protests. Adly will next appear in court on 21 May to face trial for the deaths of protesters.

Mr Mubarak, 82, has also been detained on similar charges and the country’s justice minister has warned that the former president, who is convalescing in hospital after a heart attack, could face the death penalty if convicted.

One of Egypt’s most publicly reviled officials, Adly was the public face behind the feared security services, which tortured its citizens with impunity. Fury at police brutality was one of the primary reasons for the uprising, with the Police Day holiday on 25 January chosen as the first day of the protests.

More than 800 people were killed during the nearly three weeks of protests, many of them shot in the head and upper body, which has been used as evidence by some that security forces aimed to kill.

Food Prices

ROME — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Friday that global shortages of food and spiraling prices threaten widespread destabilization and is urging immediate action to forestall a repeat of the 2007 and 2008 crisis that led to riots in dozens of countries around the developing world.

Clinton told a meeting of the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization that urgent steps are needed to hold down costs and boost agricultural production as food prices continue to rise.

Although the situation is not yet as dire as it was four years ago, she said the consequences of inaction would be “grave.”

“We must act now, effectively and cooperatively, to blunt the negative impact of rising food prices and protect people and communities,” she said at the FAO’s headquarters in Rome.

The U.N. estimates that 44 million people have been pushed into poverty since last June because of rising food prices,

Posted by Joshua at 5:23 pm

Director: Center
for Middle East Studies
and Associate Professor,
University of Oklahoma

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Last Updated on Monday, 04 July 2011 10:09

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