Assad’s Syria Shaking


In a long, fascinating interview that Syria President Bashar al-Assad did with the Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon in January, Assad spoke extensively about reform. He argued that he was a reformer — and also said that by the time that situations go to where Tunisia and Egypt were (when he wrote the piece), there was no pace of reform that could work to satisfy the situation.
One wonders whether Assad would agree with that statement today — that it is too late to reform.
In one segment of the interview, Assad shares his views on reform and democratic practice:

WSJ: If Syria is more aligned with its people in terms of its foreign policy, why is political reform such a challenge internally? This is something that you have been working on but people feel that there is not a lot of progress that has been made.
President Assad: We started the reform since I became a president. But the way we look at the reform is different from the way you look at it. For us, you cannot put the horses before the carriage. If you want to start, you have to start with 1, 2, 3, 4… you cannot start with 6 and then go back to one. For me, number (1) is what I have just mentioned: how to upgrade the whole society. For me as a government and institutions, the only thing to do is issuing some decrees and laws, let us say. Actually, this is not reform. Reform could start with some decrees but real reform is about how to open up the society, and how to start dialogue.
The problem with the West is that they start with political reform going towards democracy. If you want to go towards democracy, the first thing is to involve the people in decision making, not to make it. It is not my democracy as a person; it is our democracy as a society. So how do you start? You start with creating dialogue. How do you create dialogue? We did not have private media in the past; we did not have internet or private universities, we did not have banks. Everything was controlled by the state. You cannot create the democracy that you are asking about in this way. You have different ways of creating democracy.

And then on the cases of Tunisia and Egypt, Assad comments:

WSJ: From what we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt in the recent weeks, does it make you think there are some reforms you should be accelerating? And is there any concern that what is happening in Egypt could infect Syria?
President Assad: If you did not see the need for reform before what happened in Egypt and in Tunisia, it is too late to do any reform. This is first. Second, if you do it just because of what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, then it is going to be a reaction, not an action; and as long as what you are doing is a reaction you are going to fail. So, it is better to have it as a conviction because you are convinced of it, and this is something we talk about in every interview and every meeting. We always say that we need reform but what kind of reform. This is first.
Second, if you want to make a comparison between what is happening in Egypt and Syria, you have to look from a different point: why is Syria stable, although we have more difficult conditions?
Egypt has been supported financially by the United States, while we are under embargo by most countries of the world. We have growth although we do not have many of the basic needs for the people. Despite all that, the people do not go into an uprising. So it is not only about the needs and not only about the reform. It is about the ideology, the beliefs and the cause that you have. There is a difference between having a cause and having a vacuum. So, as I said, we have many things in common but at the same time we have some different things.

This interview was done in late January 2011.
Now in April 2011, the conditions in Syria are not unlike what has happened elsewhere in the Middle East — and Assad is facing the storms that hit Egypt and Tunisia.
The uber-informed Joshu Landis reports on current conditions in Syria. Here is a small clip but I highly recommend reading entire long report:

Over 80 dead are reported in the government crackdown on Friday April 22. The government is struggling to contain the demonstrations. Some think that they would not grow indefinitely were the government to permit them to go ahead. Who knows?
Clearly the government is not prepared to find out. Many Syrians fear chaos and are staying inside. It is hard to figure out how many are coming out to demonstrate; the numbers continue to grow. The Maydan district at the heart of traditional Damascus was the site of several killings. [Correction the day after – Reuters: “In Damascus, security forces fired teargas to disperse 2,000 protesters in the district of Maydan.” No deaths are reported today in the Maydan and only small numbers of demonstrators. This can be read as “good news” because the demos were very small, or “bad news” because demos began in the heart of traditional Sunni Damascus.]
This is bad news for the regime. The Maydan has long been the center of revolutionary activity in Damascus. It is the traditional home of the grain merchants who provisioned the city with crops from Deraa and the bread basket of Southeastern Syria. All of Sunni Damascus will grow bitter because of these deaths.
Syria’s streets seem to be filled with the endlessly numerous youth of the country, who are angry, underemployed and ready for change. As the death toll rises, the likelihood of either side backing down grows smaller and the likelihood of prolonged struggle grows larger.

It seems to me that this tsunami of change is hardly over in the region — and that the US needs to remain humble in the middle of a storm of this size and caliber.
There is no easy picture of what will and won’t happen, and US strategy in the region has been tied to pillars that are now very wobbly.
— Steve Clemons


16 comments on “Assad’s Syria Shaking

  1. karenk says:

    thanx 4 the link Dakota-it’s not just doctors either-10 nurses are on that missing list, and many paramedics too.-as a nurse I was appalled at this, posted it to my facrbook profile and will post it to several nursing magazines I write for-medical people are one big family worldwide-we’re the same type of crazy!(dealing with sick and injured people all the time)


  2. ... says:

    who owns aljazeera and huffington post?


  3. Warren Metzler says:

    I read much of the WSJ interview. And I say it was an excellent example of the utter duplicitous nature of this Assad character. He reminds me of Nixon’s famous comments in the Frost interviews that took place a few years after he resigned. Where after Frost asked him if in retrospect he now admits there was anything illegal he might have done. And Nixon’s response was along the lines of ,” There couldn’t have been, I was president”. Upon which I immediately realized he thought he was king, that was his real world view.
    All dictators, and don’t for a second believe that Assad family are not dictators, eventually, some sooner than others, succumb to the saying, “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This guy is totally perverted insanity. Not of word of his responses in the interview indicated he has a smidgen of either common sense or any idea of the life of the majority of Syrian residents.
    The basic rights of an authentic democracy; life, liberty until proven different in an unbiased court case, able to pursue your personal brand of happiness (as long as it doesn’t detrimentally interfere with the rights of another human), unlimited freedom of speech, right of privacy, etc.; never need any preparation for implementation. They can be implemented in one second, and that will cause not a single rational problem.
    Please realize this is a man who lifts a many decades old security laws, which now allows peaceful demonstrations, and two days later has his security forces fire with live bullets on peaceful demonstrators. One of those killed was an 10 year old boy, shot in the head (that never happens by accident).
    His days are numbered (you can assume that before now, just from the fact he fired his entire cabinet; except not himself of course), and it is only a matter of time before he goes. This Arab Spring is a search for the freedom to personally choose ALL aspects on one’s destiny. And once the average person in a country inwardly decides this is desirable, it is only a matter of time before it happens. It is exactly what crashed the USSR.
    For the WSJ to interview this man, and never asked him to explain a single contradiction, of which by his answers there were a multitude is not genuine journalism; it is Rush Limbaugh, or Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter type totally biased “intellectual” musings.


  4. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Don’t tell anyone, but Pepe Escobar has our number..
    “It’s the House of Saud counter-revolution against the Great 2011 Arab Revolt – condoned by the US – that has shattered America’s ”credibility on democracy and reform””
    “All this while the ”traditional security arrangement” with Washington is not even working anymore. The House of Saud is not stabilizing global oil prices; by refusing to increase production, it will let it reach $160 a barrel-levels quite soon. And meanwhile the White House/Pentagon keeps protecting that medieval bunch that were the first to recognize the Taliban in the mid-1990s, and whose billionaires finance jihadis all across the world”
    Too bad this guy isn’t in a “Think Tank”. It’d be nice to see one that actually has an honest thinker in its ranks.


  5. DakotabornKansan says:

    Physicians for Human Rights has released an emergency report,


  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Protesting Against Nuclear Radiation
    Nuke protester murdered in India as police open fire on peaceful crowd
    by Rady Ananda
    Global Research, April 21, 2011
    Authorities responded to peaceful protest of a proposed nuclear power plant site in India by shooting at the crowd, killing one and injuring eight. Over sixty others were arrested. Killed by police on Monday, the body of 30-year-old Tabrez Sayekar was carried through the streets at a funeral march attended by more than 2,000 people yesterday. No one has been charged in his murder.
    You can rest assured that this brand of violent governmental suppression of peaceful protest won’t prompt the —- (ryhmes with mutt) in the White House to order in airstrikes, CIA insertion, and drone attacks. You see, the Indian Government, like the Israeli government, is murdering the politically correct kind of peaceful protesters.
    Its not the suppression of freedom that concerns the White House, obviously.
    So what is it? You can fry Palestinians in white phosphorous, steal their land, and shoot peaceful protesters that are American citizens. You can gun down peaceful protesters that are against nuclear powerplants endangering the lives of millions. You can create “Free Speech Zones” to sentence protesters to fenced back alleys that are out of the media spotlight. All of that is A-OK with Barack Obama and the slimebags in Congress.
    So WTF is Assad or Ghadaffi doing that is anymore egregious?


  7. questions says:



  8. Kathleen says:

    Over at Huff Po
    Syria Protests; Shocking Videos Show Friday’s Bloody Crackdown
    Let the U.N. Act on Palestine
    “In any case, with the September U.N. session fast approaching, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing another grand appearance in Washington, in an effort to win the one and only vote he feels he needs to block international pressure. Concerned that President Obama may soon present his own plan laying out a U.S. framework for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, Netanyahu has wrangled an invitation to address the U.S. Congress. It is expected that he will attempt to preempt the president by unveiling his own proposal, which from all indications will amount to no more than an agreement to take the minimum steps he should have taken and refused to take 15 years ago when he rejected the Oslo process. While this will surely be seen by Palestinians and most of the world as “too little, too late”, it will no doubt win the prime minister thunderous applause in Congress, emboldening the Israelis to stand fast and do no more.”
    Just announced a UN no fly zone over the Gaza and the West Bank


  9. ... says:
    The Middle East’s oldest dictatorship…see link above…
    i guess it pays to keep your nuclear weapons, or at least gaddaffi must be thinking about that one a wee bit…
    interesting 10:16am post cee…thanks
    i ditto don s 10:18am post.. thanks for the posts…


  10. DonS says:

    ” . . . and that the US needs to remain humble in the middle of a storm of this size and caliber.”
    With respect, the US doesn’t do humble (witness Biden, McCain, and numerous others). Is it so much that they really want these brown people to have democracy (except the Palestinians of course), or is more a subtle sort of boasting about the wonderful democracy we enjoy in this country? That, as we should begin to see by now, is the stealth message that keeps the US plutocrats from being held to account.


  11. Cee says:

    Libya and Syria
    Former supreme allied commander Europe of Nato,
    from 1997 to 2000, Wesley Clark claims that in
    2001, a general in the Pentagon showed him a piece
    of paper and said:
    I just got this memo today or yesterday from the
    office of the secretary of defence upstairs. It


  12. Cee says:

    We all know that Syria has been a target for regime
    change for years. None of this is a surprise.
    The snipers in the Times article probably aren’t
    even Syrian.


  13. questions says:

    LAT story,0,5846655.story
    “A witness who gave his first name as Ihsan told The Times that snipers in civilian clothes positioned on rooftops in the Damascus suburb of Duma opened fire on the mourners, killing at least four, but the account could not be independently verified.
    “We are living in a real war,” he said. “We haven’t been able to reach the graveyard yet because snipers and security forces in uniform are shooting at the funeral procession from rooftops and the streets.”
    A general strike had been called in Duma in a furious response to Friday’s deadly crackdown by security forces, and protesters expected new assaults.”
    and NYT


  14. questions says:

    Reading through the comments on the Joshua Landis site confirms the sense I have that we need much better analysis than we get. The level disagreement simply about what happened, never mind why it happened, is significant. And as soon as you get to “why” you have to ask if it is sectarian as one poster insists, or if it’s liberation-minded as another suggests.
    And when you’re done asking what happened, which we don’t know, and you have some sense about why it happened, which we also don’t know, you run into all the practical questions about regime durability, about how much the people support political order over liberation, or liberation over order, or already feel plenty free enough, or what.
    Qaddafi has his admirers,and maybe Assad does as well.
    Assad seems to want the slow slow path in the interview above. Slow, community-building, institution-building, pro-active, local, legitimate, taking into account current power structures, slow slow slow building of a new political order.
    His line about how if you only do it because of Tunisa and Egypt you’ve pretty much lost it is really interesting. Reactive, panicked reform will perhaps tend to be surface level, tenuous, and disbelieved.
    And, I suppose, Assad could be utterly insincere, yet another problem analysts have to deal with. Does anyone ever really reform a regime in a way that costs power?
    Pro-active slow change that carries people along might feel better and might fit better than the reactive version. But it might never actually happen.
    Think how the US Congress can take 40 years to get major legislation through — it’s all about building up social support for the change so that when it’s put into place it doesn’t cause disruption, delegitimation, doesn’t freak out the elites, doesn’t harm the masses.
    As I note occasionally, overdetermined change takes root. Underdetermined change is fought off. Activists can help the cause by making things seem overdetermined, but when activists get ahead of social readiness, the result is likely to be a problem.
    And how do we ever know when the time is ripe? Generally we can’t know. Always we have to guess. Better guesses come from better analysts.
    Our analysts have missed all sorts of events over time, in all sorts of arenas of human endeavor. We don’t, sadly, ever know the future. Nor can we use small samples to predict macro behavior.
    We’re not in great shape on this one.


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