Tag: Syrian Coalition

EGYPT

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(Please Note: articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click link for the complete article – Ed.)

 

 

Morsi and the General: Daniel Nisman, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 28, 2013In August 2012, it seemed as though Egypt's once-omnipotent military generals had been all but neutered. After a devastating militant attack killed dozens of troops in the Sinai Peninsula, a newly-elected President Mohammed Morsi seized the opportunity to fire Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and a number of other generals.

 

A Warning to John Kerry: Egypt Could Become the Next Iran: Nesreen Akhtarkhavari, Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 1, 2013As Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Egypt March 2 he should be wary of one concerning possibility: Under the rule of Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt is in danger of becoming a Sunni version of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Terror in Tahrir: Diana Sayed, Egypt Independent, Mar. 2, 2013Women activists have protested all over the world against sexual violence in Egypt. The protests, which took place in front of Egyptian embassies in 20 capitals worldwide and in Cairo, sent a clear message to the Egyptian government that the international community will take a stand against sexual harassment in solidarity with the women of Egypt.

Egypt's New Coptic Pope Tawadros Faces Religious Tension, Uncertain Future: Joseph Mayton, Washington Report on Mid East Affairs, February 2013In early November, less than a week after Egypt's new Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros had taken over as the newest pontiff in the world's oldest Christian sect, he lashed out on television, accusing the ultra-conservative Salafists of "destroying" the future of the country. 

On Topic Links

 

 

Muslims Attacking Copts in Egypt Over False Rumor: Salma Shukrallah, Al Ahram,  Mar. 2, 2013

Will Violence Erupt in Egypt?: Mike Giglio, The Daily Beast, Mar 1, 2013

Will Egypt’s democrats get serious?: Amir Taheri, New York Post, Feb. 27, 2013

The Egyptian Army is Making a Comeback: Zvi Mazel, Real Clear World, Feb. 25, 2013

 

 

 

MORSI AND THE GENERAL

Daniel Nisman

Wall Street Journal, Feb. 28, 2013

 

In August 2012, it seemed as though Egypt's once-omnipotent military generals had been all but neutered. After a devastating militant attack killed dozens of troops in the Sinai Peninsula, a newly-elected President Mohammed Morsi seized the opportunity to fire Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and a number of other generals. President Morsi was empowered by popular anger following 17 months of incompetent military rule over post-revolution Egypt. But now, six months later, the generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) have returned to challenge an increasingly loathed President Morsi—quite possibly laying the groundwork to bring Egypt back under military rule.

 

General Abdel Fattah El Sissi, whom Mr. Morsi chose to replace Field Marshal Tantawi, was originally presumed to be sympathetic to Egypt's popularly elected Islamist leadership. Perhaps it was the notable opposition to U.S. foreign policy exhibited in his past writing, or the traditional Muslim headscarf worn by his wife. To suggest however, that a Brotherhood-sympathizer could have risen to the rank of general under Hosni Mubarak is to ignore the former dictator's unrelenting, decades-long rivalry with political Islam. Gen. Sissi's first move after being appointed was to make a tactical retreat, pulling the military back from the political sphere and restoring the prestige it lost during Egypt's tumultuous transition period. From there, Gen. Sissi has had a comfortable vantage point from which to observe the decline of the headstrong Muslim Brotherhood.

 

It didn't take long for the show to start. Last November, President Morsi plunged the country into violence after issuing a decree to help push an Islamist-backed draft constitution to referendum. During that month-long period of unrest, the fissure between Gen. Sissi's military and the Brotherhood had already begun to reopen. Amid ongoing military attacks against Islamist compounds across the country, President Morsi and his cohorts fumed at the military's refusal to send troops to protect their installations. The Brotherhood's leadership reportedly pressured President Morsi to reject a SCAF offer to mediate dialogue with the political opposition….

 

In January came more civil unrest, ignited by the anniversary of the 2011 uprising, particularly violent in Cairo. By then, relations between the Brotherhood and the military had gone from bad to worse. The Suez Canal region also saw particularly ugly clashes after a court issued death sentences against dozens of Port Said residents for their involvement in a deadly soccer riot last year. The Interior Ministry's failure to restore order to the country's most strategic region forced a hesitant President Morsi to make a request from the military to impose martial law.

 

Ironically, this handed Gen. Sissi a perfect opportunity to side with the people of the Suez Canal cities against President Morsi. Gen. Sissi agreed to deploy to the Canal, but ordered his troops to protect the waterway itself rather than submit to President Morsi's bidding by cracking down on a restive populace. The ensuing scenes of Port Said residents marching in the streets, side-by-side with military troops in defiance of President's Morsi's curfew, bore semblance to those of the 2011 uprising, when military officers were received in Tahrir Square by cheering revolutionaries. Those images emanating from Port Said soon led to whispers of support for a military coup in Cairo.

 

In the Sinai meanwhile, Gen. Sissi has gone ahead and strengthened his position with Washington at President Morsi's expense. The military's unprecedented crackdown on smuggling to the Gaza Strip most recently culminated in a campaign to destroy hundreds of tunnels on the Rafah border by flooding them with water. The military has made sure to publicize each of their seizures in a direct affront to President Morsi's pledges of support for Gaza's ruling Hamas regime.

 

Gen. Sissi has continued to publicly deny any intentions to seize power unless he is "called upon by the people" to do so—a hazy notion which has sparked fears of a coup within the Brotherhood leadership. On Feb. 20, the Egyptian press reported that the SCAF had been holding meetings behind closed doors in the president's absence on matters relating to security and stability. Since then, Egyptian media has been awash with rumours over a possible scheme by the president to sack Gen. Sissi as he did Field Marshal Tantawi…

 

Currently, neither President Morsi nor Gen. Sissi looks to be in a position to overpower the other. But the Machiavellian discipline displayed by the general may just be enough to outlast the Islamist politician. Egypt's secular opposition remains in disarray, unable to prove its worth as a viable alternative to President Morsi's floundering leadership. That leaves Gen. Sissi's increasingly trusted military as the only entity with the influence and organization needed to bring Egypt back from the brink of collapse.

 

Mr. Nisman is the Middle East and North Africa section intelligence director at Max Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm.

 

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A WARNING TO JOHN KERRY:
EGYPT COULD BECOME THE NEXT IRAN

Nesreen Akhtarkhavari

Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 1, 2013

 

As Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Egypt March 2 he should be wary of one concerning possibility: Under the rule of Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt is in danger of becoming a Sunni version of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Opposition leaders’ refusal to meet with Mr. Kerry over what they perceive to be as unprincipled US support for Mr. Morsi should serve as a wake-up call and warning to Washington.

 

Morsi’s first step after winning the June 2012 presidential election was to create an alliance with other Islamic groups, and sideline seculars and liberals who could derail the establishment of a religious state. Next, he gave himself immunity from legal prosecution and managed to quickly hoard more power than deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak ever dreamed of having. After a number of manoeuvres, Morsi pushed forward a constitution drafted mostly by Brotherhood members and their allies, ignoring the protests of secular opponents, Christians, women, and liberals against the discriminatory language and key articles placed in the new constitution.

 

The new constitution sets the legal ground for creating what could become an Islamic state. It restricts the role of the judicial and legislative branches and stipulates that laws and their interpretations are subject to Islamic jurisprudence. It further gives legal-oversight power on “matters related to the Islamic sharia” to Al-Azhar University, the oldest and highest Sunni religious institution in Egypt.

 

The new constitution and its wide implications for personal freedom and social justice should concern the international community. It explicitly recognizes only the three Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), and leaves other minorities, such as those of the Baha’i faith, without meaningful constitutional protection. Strict adherence to the concept of apostasy prevents Muslims from changing their religion, a crime punishable by death. Blasphemy laws restrict freedom of expression, especially on religious matters, with retributions as severe as death for comments related to the prophet Mohammed or the Koran.

 

According to Sunni jurisprudence, women are subject to male guardianship under which their personal freedoms, social life, and career choices are severely restricted. This restriction is not banned under Egypt’s new constitution. And because the new constitution fails to set a minimum age for marriage and does not criminalize sexual trafficking of minors, children, especially girls, could be forced into marriages at the age of nine with the approval of their male guardians.

 

During the last three decades, Iran, under the control of the Islamic Shiite clergy, was transformed into a religious state with endless human rights violations. In most cases, the world stood by watching. Egypt is learning from the Iranian experience. If the political conditions in Egypt remain the same, Egypt could soon follow Iran’s footsteps…..

 

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Terror in Tahrir

Diana Sayed

Egypt Independent, Mar. 2, 2013

 

Women activists have protested all over the world against sexual violence in Egypt. The protests, which took place in front of Egyptian embassies in 20 capitals worldwide and in Cairo, sent a clear message to the Egyptian government that the international community will take a stand against sexual harassment in solidarity with the women of Egypt.

 

In the midst of all the chaos of the country’s politics, there seems to be one constant: Women are being pushed, figuratively and, in many cases, literally, out of the public sphere. Despite being at the forefront of the revolution that occurred two years ago, women continue to face much the same kind of systematic targeting they faced under the Hosni Mubarak regime.

 

For example, Cairo’s Tahrir Square, seen as the heart of the protest movement, has become a dangerous place for women. On 25 January 2013, the second anniversary of the Egyptian uprising, numerous women reported being sexually assaulted, including many who were raped. Nazra for Feminist Studies, an Egyptian NGO, documented one protester’s story about what happened to her at Tahrir when she was caught in a crowd of demonstrators: “I did not understand anything at that moment … I did not comprehend what was happening … who are those people?”

 

“All that I knew was that there were hundreds of hands stripping me of my clothes and brutally violating my body. There is no way out, for everyone is saying that they are protecting and saving me, but all I felt from the circles close to me, sticking to my body, was the finger-rape of my body, from the front and back; someone was even trying to kiss me … I was completely naked,” she recounted. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the attacks….

 

In response to such violent attacks, Nazra and other leading Egyptian NGOs, including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, HarassMap and Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, have formed Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, often abbreviated as OpAntiSH. The coalition has been a prominent critic of revolutionary groups and political parties that have failed to combat attacks on female protesters.

 

Though it is not certain who is behind the frequent attacks, OpAntiSH suggests they are not random. “We believe they must be organized, because they happen most of the time in the exact same spots in Tahrir Square and they use the same methodologies,” the coalition said, adding that testimonies collected were similar to accounts of 2005 attacks thought to have been instigated by secret police. Nazra adds, “We will not be frightened; we will not hide in our homes. Sexual harassment is a social disease that has been rampant for years, used by the regime to intimidate girls and women.”

 

This is not a new problem in Egypt, but it is one that grows more disturbing with each brutal attack. According to a 2008 report by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, 83 percent of Egyptian women had experienced some form of sexual harassment. The problem is exacerbated by a failure to prosecute the perpetrators.  One activist recently observed, “There is no accountability for these people. They know that they can get away with it again and again.”

 

The Egyptian Railways Authority announced last week that it would enforce women’s-only train cars on several popular routes to and from Cairo in a move to try and curtail the rampant sexual harassment. However, it’s a move that some activists say addresses the symptoms and not the cause of the attacks. The issue frequently happens in the shadows of more well-documented news events surrounding Egypt’s journey toward democracy. It is clear that Egypt is a nation in desperate need of stability that is safeguarded by institutions established to guarantee human rights.

 

It’s not easy bringing in democracy after generations of dictatorship or to change mindsets that have been entrenched for so long. But if the new Egypt is to emerge stronger and better than the one of the past, women must be permitted to safely participate in political dialogue. They must be able to walk down the street or into areas of protest safe from fear of attack.  If the revolution of Tahrir Square is to take hold permanently, all Egyptians — men and women, alike — must be able to participate to ensure that every Egyptian lives with dignity and enjoys democracy.

 

Diana Sayed is Human Rights First’s Pennoyer fellow and an advocate and researcher in the Human Rights Defenders Program.

 

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EGYPT'S NEW COPTIC POPE TAWADROS

 

FACES RELIGIOUS TENSION, UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Joseph Mayton

Washington Report on Mid East Affairs, February 2013

 

In early November, less than a week after Egypt's new Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros had taken over as the newest pontiff in the world's oldest Christian sect, he lashed out on television, accusing the ultra-conservative Salafists of "destroying" the future of the country. His comments are unlikely to go over well with a majority of Egyptians, who have turned even more toward their Islamic faith since the January 2011 uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak from power.

 

Nevertheless, Pope Tawadros, like the Coptic community, is forging ahead, asserting their identity despite fears of a conservative backlash that has already threatened Egypt's social fabric. The new pope's ascension comes at a time when relations between Muslim and Christian Egyptians are strained at best. Reports of girls having their hair cut off on public transportation by Salafist (Islamic puritan) women in niqab, the full-face-covering veil popular among the ultra-conservatives, or of a teacher cutting students' hair for failing to cover their heads with a hijab are just the tip of the iceberg.

 

In an early November incident, a group of Salafists occupied a plot of land on the outskirts of Cairo owned by the Coptic Christian Church and attempted to turn it into a makeshift mosque. It took police a full day to arrive. Luckily for residents, violence and clashes did not break out, but it would not have been the first time Christians and Muslims have battled.

 

The average Egyptian Christian is uncertain which way the church will go under Pope Tawadros. As George Zaki, a young man studying to become a Coptic priest, says, right now "it is really up in the air" in which direction the church will head. Zaki wants a strong leader who is willing to speak his mind, but doesn't feel that immediately lashing out at the Salafists is a good move. "Many of us are definitely fearful of the Salafists, even my Muslim friends," he explains, "because we all fought and protested for a new Egypt that wouldn't see religion be part of the political make-up."

 

Prior to Pope Tawadros' appointment on Nov. 4, the Muslim Brotherhood began talking about working with the new pope, and those who cover religious issues on the ground say they support the status quo. "What the Coptic community doesn't need is someone who will anger the Islamists in government right now," says Yussif Qandeel, a reporter at an Egyptian Arabic daily who regularly covers Christian issues. Judging by his conversations with members of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP)—the Muslim Brotherhood's political wing—Qandeel says "they want to see someone be pope who they can work with, which means continuing the [late Pope] Shenouda tradition." Not everyone in the Coptic community may agree, however. Although Pope Shenouda, who died on March 17, was extremely popular, many Copts considered him weak in standing up for the community's rights and ability to function in Egyptian society.

 

Still, overall the Christian community is inclined to support the new pope, who already has demonstrated his ability to combine the strengths of the Shenouda era with distancing himself from what many perceived to be Shenouda's willingness to acquiesce to the Mubarak regime. Certainly it will be difficult to replace a man who presided over the Coptic community for more than four decades, as Shenouda did. Despite the growing internal struggle within the church, however, most are optimistic, including Zaki, who believes the future will find the Coptic Church stronger than ever.

 

"We are a strong people, a strong group of Christians and we have been through a lot in the past years," he explains, "so I think the future of the Church will not be determined by one choice, but by the strength of our own community and by our people as Egyptians." Fears of anti-Christian sentiment received a reprieve earlier this year when the country's leading Islamic institute, al-Azhar, called for a Bill of Rights to be adopted before a constitution is drafted. The idea, simply, would be to establish certain "inalienable" rights for all Egyptians, including freedom of speech, assembly and, most importantly, freedom of religion. The proposed document received massive popular support from activists, liberals, Islamists, intellectuals and Christians alike. Nevertheless, the implementation of these "inalienable" rights remains to be seen.

 

In the process of drafting a new constitution, the Constituent Assembly was consumed with the question of shariah, or Islamic law, leaving many Egyptians wondering what happened to the proposed Bill of Rights.

 

For its part, the Coptic Church has historically avoided advocating separation of church and state, despite the inclination of the greater Coptic community, which has long demanded that the government end its preferential treatment of Muslim Egyptians. This was evident a few years back, when a Coptic woman had to fight numerous court battles in order to retain custody of her two children, who grew up Coptic but whom the government reclassified as Muslims after their father converted to Islam. Although its views on religion in Egypt are becoming more liberal, the Coptic Church has long preferred a separate set of laws for Egypt's Muslim and Christian communities to a unifying concept of freedom of religion.

 

While the Coptic community is hopeful about the future of Egypt and the social and political roles it will play, they must have reservations about how far the Christian community can realistically advance. Not only do Coptic Egyptians have limited mobility and limited parliamentary representation, but the country's turn toward conservatism may well be a major impediment to creating a robust civil society that treats Coptic Christians with equal weight. The new constitution undoubtedly will provide the first look at just how much unity and freedom its citizens, Muslim and Coptic alike, will enjoy in the new Egypt.

 

Joseph Mayton is a free-lance journalist based in Cairo.

 

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Muslims Attacking Copts in Egypt Over False Rumor: Salma Shukrallah, Al Ahram,  Mar. 2, 2013A rumour has spread in the Upper Egyptian city of Kom Ombo that a divorced Muslim woman in her mid-30s was kidnapped by the Coptic Church and converted to Christianity. In an area divided by tribal and religious allegiances, the story has fuelled violence against the area's Christian minority.

 

Will Violence Erupt in Egypt?: Mike Giglio, The Daily Beast, Mar 1, 2013On the night of December 7, Ahmed Abdel Hamid sensed violence coming. A 35-year-old Salafi activist with a rugged black beard and a pro wrestler’s build, he and a few thousand of his hardline religious comrades had massed outside the futuristic compound in western Cairo known as “media city,” the heart of Egypt’s expanding TV-news universe. They waited for word from the capital’s east.

 

Will Egypt’s democrats get serious?: Amir Taheri, New York Post, Feb. 27, 2013Two years ago, the popular narrative on Egypt was all about a nation getting rid of a despot and heading for a golden future. Today, we have a litany of woes depicting Egypt as a wayward ship in a stormy sea. But what if both narratives miss the point?

 

The Egyptian Army is Making a Comeback: Zvi Mazel, Real Clear World, Feb. 25, 2013Never has Egypt been so close to civil war and today it seems that only the army can prevent the worst from happening. The Muslim Brothers and the opposition are both doing their utmost to bring the army to their side, with little success so far: Field Marshal Abd el-Fattah El-Sisi, the defense minister, never loses an opportunity to state that the army is taking no part in the political struggle and devotes its energy to protecting the country – while adding that it will not let it plunge into chaos.

 

 

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AS WASHINGTON FIDDLES, AND KERRY JIGS, SYRIA REELS, SLIDING DEEPER INTO THE BIG MUDDY

Download Today's Isranet Daily Briefing.pdf 

 

Contents:                          

 

(Please Note: articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click link for the complete article – Ed.)

 

Syria’s Breakup is a Levantine Norm: Rami G. Khouri, The Daily Star, Feb. 23, 2013The talk about Syria has turned increasingly pessimistic in recent weeks, with expectations ranging across a span of many bad outcomes. These range from Syria becoming a Levantine Somalia, where power is in the hands of hundreds of local warlords and tribal chieftains, to a totally fractured state defined by a combination of raging civil war and sectarianism that pulls in interested neighbors and perhaps ignites new regional wars.

 

Syrian Rebel Leader Deals With Ties to Other Side: Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, Mar. 1, 2013Gen. Salim Idris, convinced that the last stand of the Syrian Army in the long, grisly fight to control Aleppo will take place soon at the Academy of Military Engineering, dreads the moment. It is not just the 2,000 or so well-armed soldiers holed up there, inside the square-kilometer campus on Aleppo’s eastern outskirts. Nor is it the reinforced concrete bunkers built under every building to withstand an Israeli air raid.
 

Rebel Factions Work Against Each Other in Syria's Civil War: Alan Philps, The National (UAE), Mar 1, 2013There are now said to be more than 1,000 separate rebel units fighting the regime of Bashar Al Assad. Despite American attempts to unite the disparate forces, it seems they are becoming more factionalised with every passing week.

 

John Kerry's Syrian Second ChanceFouad Ajami, Real Clear Politics, Mar. 1, 2013As the war that has degraded and all but partitioned Syria enters its third year, the amorphous coalition known as the Friends of Syria continues to hover just off-stage. The Western democracies, moderate Arab governments and international organizations that constitute the coalition are indeed friends of the opposition to the despotic regime of Bashar Assad—but at arm's length.

 

On Topic Links

 

Don’t Give Weaponry to the Syrian RebelsMichael Rubin, Commentary, Mar. 2, 2013

Syrian Rebels Reported to Take Key City After Heavy Fighting: Hania Mourtada, New York Times, Mar. 4, 2013

U.S. Policy on Syria is Self-Defeating: Rami G. Khouri, The Daily Star (Lebanon), Mar. 2, 2013

It's Too Late to Stop Syria Disintegrating: Emanuele Ottolenghi, Standpoint, March 2013

Syrian War Is Everybody's Problem: Frida Ghitis, CNN, Mar. 3, 2013

 

 

 

SYRIA’S BREAKUP IS A LEVANTINE NORM

Rami G. Khouri

The Daily Star, Feb. 23, 2013

 

The talk about Syria by knowledgeable friends and colleagues whose views I respect has turned increasingly pessimistic in recent weeks, with expectations ranging across a span of many bad outcomes. These range from Syria becoming a Levantine Somalia, where power is in the hands of hundreds of local warlords and tribal chieftains, to a totally fractured state defined by a combination of raging civil war and sectarianism that pulls in interested neighbors and perhaps ignites new regional wars.

 

Speculation about the future of Syria is a growth industry these days, for good reason: What happens in Syria will have an impact on the region, given its central role in the political geography, ideologies and security of the Levant and areas further afield. The events in recent years in Iraq and Libya remind us that developments in one state in the region can have repercussions in neighbouring countries, sometimes immediately and sometimes a few years down the road.

 

The longer Syria’s domestic war goes on, the more fragmented the country becomes, alongside three other dangerous trends: Sectarianism increasingly becomes the option of choice for Syrian citizens who seek security but cannot get it from the state; revenge killings will become a more likely occurrence after Bashar Assad’s downfall; and militant Salafists may increasingly take root in local communities across the country as they prove to be well organized and funded adversaries of the Assad regime.

 

Next month we will mark two years since the outbreak of protests against the regime, as the domestic battle continues to rage. Syrians have paid a very heavy price for their desire to remove the Assad regime and replace it with a more democratic and accountable system of governance, but there are no signs that either side is tiring of this fight. Despite the destruction of the economy and urban infrastructure, Syrians seem determined to keep fighting until one side defeats the other. The chances of a negotiation or dialogue to end the fighting and usher in a peaceful transition of power seem slim, given the wide gap between Assad and the opposition groups.

 

The trend on the ground seems to favour the slow advances of the opposition groups, whose access to more sophisticated weapons and control of key facilities around the country sees the Assad regime’s sovereignty footprint shrinking by the week. The regime has reverted to what has always been its vital core: thousands of armed troops in just a few parts of the country, controlled by officers from, or close to, the extended Assad family, disproportionately anchored in the Alawite minority community. This is a recipe for imminent collapse.

 

Yet the timing and nature of the transition to a new governance system in Syria both remain highly speculative. I personally expected the Assad regime to have fallen long ago, but clearly its staying power is great. The weakness and lack of unity of the opposition forces make it impossible to predict a post-Assad scenario.

 

More and more analysts expect chaos, violence, sectarian revenge killings and deep fragmentation to occur, and these become more likely with every passing month of fighting. Some analysts expect a post-Assad Syria to be dominated by Islamists, whether mainstream Muslim Brotherhood types or more militant Salafists who are now playing a major role in the military resistance against Assad. Others, including myself, are more sanguine, expecting Syria’s 5,000 years of cosmopolitan history and more recent legacy of inter-communal coexistence to shape the new governance system that emerges from the wreckage of the current war.

 

Syria’s problem, like Iraq’s and Lebanon’s, is that the nature of its pluralistic population means that major demographic groups have strong ties with fellow populations in nearby countries, such as Alawites, Kurds, Druze, Sunnis and even Christians. The main lesson of the current situation in Syria strikes me as being the fragility of the modern Arab state in the Levant and beyond, where countries like Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine in the past three generations have alternated between strong or shattered central governments. These have been either fragmented states or centralized police states since the 1940s, with no chance to live as normal states where citizens agree on the rules and values of national governance.

 

We are now passing through a period in which fragmenting states are forcing us to discuss Lebanon, Syria and Iraq in terms of Alawites, Druze, Shiites and Sunnis, rather than in terms of coherent states with satisfied citizenries. The slow-motion destruction of the centralized Syrian state will enhance this trend toward the retribalization of the Arab Levant, until the day comes when the many distinct tribes can sit down and agree on how to reconnect as citizens of single states, governed by the rule of law that they can define themselves in meaningful constitutions.

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SYRIAN REBEL LEADER DEALS WITH TIES TO OTHER SIDE

Neil MacFarquhar

New York Times, Mar. 1, 2013

 

Gen. Salim Idris, convinced that the last stand of the Syrian Army in the long, grisly fight to control Aleppo will take place soon at the Academy of Military Engineering, dreads the moment. It is not just the 2,000 or so well-armed soldiers holed up there, inside the square-kilometer campus on Aleppo’s eastern outskirts. Nor is it the reinforced concrete bunkers built under every building to withstand an Israeli air raid.

 

The toughest part for him is his fondness for both the officers in charge and the campus itself. When he defected in July 2012, General Idris, now chief of staff of the rebel forces, was a brigadier in the Syrian Army and dean of the academy after teaching there for 20 years. “I cannot imagine that we will attack the academy,” General Idris said in a wide-ranging interview in a hotel cafe. “All the officers inside the academy are my colleagues. I don’t want to fight against them; I don’t want to see them killed or injured. I hope they leave before we attack.”

 

General Idris, 55, a stocky figure with a neatly trimmed mustache who was wearing a dark suit and tie, said he planned to deploy outside the academy when the fight begins, to make one last-ditch attempt to convince his old colleagues to defect. “We cannot do anything about it if they don’t,” he said with a shrug.

 

Much of Syria’s future rests on General Idris’s success on the battlefield. Critics say the newly unified command structure he presides over lacks both the ground presence and the heavy weapons that are so desperately needed. Without both, they say, it will be impossible for him to forge a cohesive force from the thousands of fractious, fiercely independent rebel brigades arrayed against the still formidable military of President Bashar al-Assad. Under intense pressure from Western and Arab backers, hundreds of Free Syrian Army commanders gathered in Turkey last December to select a 30-member Supreme Military Council, which in turn chose General Idris as chief of staff. They unified, grudgingly, because they were promised heavy weapons, they said, in particular antiaircraft and antitank weapons, and other, nonlethal aid.

 

Some has materialized, although not nearly enough to transform the rebel effort, General Idris said. Secretary of State John Kerry this week pledged $60 million in additional nonlethal aid and training. The general stressed that the rebels need weapons and ammunition to fight the government, but would take anything they could get. “The fighter also needs food and medical aid and care and cotton and bandages and sterilizers — the fighters need to live,” he said in a brief phone interview from northern Syria. “I was just visiting one of the military field hospitals. I swear that the situation there would make your heart bleed. The hospitals are so basic with very limited resources.”

 

Previous American aid seemed to amount to a trickle of small, odd lots. The Americans gave him nine ordinary black and gray Toyota pickup trucks, for example. General Idris kept three to move around with his staff and turned over the rest to field commanders. The communications equipment provided is too weak to reach across the country, he said, so he uses Skype. There were enough fatigues from the United States for 10,000 soldiers, which were nowhere near enough, given the roughly 300,000 rebel fighters, he said.

 

In addition to planned training efforts by the Americans, General Idris is urging Washington to train handpicked commando teams to help secure Syria’s suspected stock of chemical weapons if the government teeters. As for financial support, General Idris said very little had been forthcoming. “We were promised a lot,” he said, “but when the moment of truth arrives they think a lot and give very little.”

 

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SYRIA'S REBEL FACTIONS WORK AGAINST EACH OTHER

Alan Philps

The National (UAE), Mar 1, 2013

 

There are now said to be more than 1,000 separate rebel units fighting the regime of Bashar Al Assad. Despite American attempts to unite the disparate forces, it seems they are becoming more factionalised with every passing week. This a topic of anguished debate in the region. Rami Khouri, a commentator and former editor of The Daily Star in Beirut, concludes that the fragmentation of the Lebanese, Iraqi and now Syrian states is part of a trend under which the whole region is being "re-tribalised". The fracturing of Syria among local warlords, he concludes, is the norm for the states of the Arab Levant.

 

In a bitter dispatch to the London Review of Books from the front lines of Syria, Baghdad-born Ghaith Abdul-Ahad puts Arab factionalism in a broader historical context: it is "the main reason for all our losses and defeats, from al-Andalus to Palestine". The Palestinians in their heyday had only a dozen factions, and the Lebanese in their 15 years of civil war never exceeded 30, but the Syrians have reached new heights.

 

Many of these so-called factions are no more than a man and his cousins, with perhaps a few country boys. What matters more than ideology or arms is to have a multimedia producer who can upload videos of the battalion's exploits and so gain funding from foreign sponsors. This is war by YouTube, where the faction's virtual presence on the web is as important as its footprint on the ground.

 

Against the background of this jockeying for foreign sponsorship by groups of limited or non-existent military capacity, there is a second trend: the increasing domination of the struggle by jihadist elements who have years of experience in Iraq of rigging and exploding roadside bombs. At the start of the rebellion these foreign warriors were clear interlopers in a movement which prided itself on representing Syria's patchwork of religious and ethnic groups. But with their experience in battle, ruthless discipline, clear goals and close links with Islamist sources of funding, the jihadists have emerged as the leaders of the struggle, with Jabhat Al Nusra, declared by the US to be a terrorist organization, at their head.

 

The new US secretary of state, John Kerry, thus faces a near-impossible task. US efforts to unify the resistance movement have failed, because Washington is reluctant to get fully engaged. Attempts to bolster the secular forces against the Islamists have only made the Free Syrian Army, the US- and Turkish-supported grouping, look like stooges of the West. President Barack Obama has refused to lift the arms embargo on the Syrian factions, on the basis of a simple political calculation: if US arms ended up in the hands of the jihadists, it would be far more damaging to him in the eyes of US voters than two more years of civil war in Syria, with a further 70,000 dead.

 

After much lobbying by the Free Syrian Army, it is now likely to receive some "non-lethal" support – training, vehicles and body armour. This is a typical diplomatic fudge: enough to show support for the FSA, while not risking any American lives or the possibility of weapons ending up in the wrong hands. If this judgment seems cynical, it is by and large shared by the Europeans. The FSA has not earned full confidence either in its effectiveness or morality. In the city of Aleppo, which is largely in rebel hands, the FSA are known as the "bread stealers". While they were in control of the city, bread was scarce, prompting accusations that the officers had sold all the flour for their own profit. With the bakeries now under the control of the Islamist militants of Jabhat Al Nusra, reports from the city suggest that bread rationing is under tight control.

 

With the conflict in stalemate and the rebels not yet strong enough to topple the regime, it seems that everything is for sale. Given the financial backing enjoyed by the Islamists, it is quite likely that sophisticated weapons given to the FSA could be sold to jihadists.

 

The regime may have its back to the wall, but the situation could have been far worse. Few commentators had expected Mr Al Assad still to be in power almost two years after the start of the uprising. He has made some territorial gains – the city of Homs is now safe enough for the regime to escort foreign journalists there. He enjoys the strong support of Iran, while the western powers do not trust their allies. American military calculations are overshadowed by the prospect of deep Pentagon budget cuts made necessary by the mounting federal debt burden.

 

The strength of the jihadists in rebel ranks only complicates western calculations. Policy-makers cannot see Syria as an island on its own. What effect would a hard-line Sunni Muslim regime in Damascus have on Syria's neighbours? For Iraq, it would be a springboard for anti-Shia revanchist forces.

 

The feeling that America's hands are tied has spurred the regime to use its missiles against civilian targets in Aleppo, including in one strike that killed more than 140 people last week. This is a dangerous tactic: such outrages in past conflicts have inflamed public opinion in the West and forced governments to act. But the regime clearly feels that fatigue has set in, and they can use their heavy weapons with impunity. That may not always be the case.

 

Efforts are meanwhile under way to convene the first peace talks in Moscow between the opposition and representatives of the regime. But it is not clear to what extent the leader of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, Moaz Al Khatib, represents fighters on the ground. Until the opposition forces coalesce, or at least form a recognisable coalition, the chances of meaningful negotiation are vanishingly slim.

 

Such a coalition is not in sight at the moment. It could perhaps happen if the rebels established firm control over a swathe of the northern borderlands, and used it to set up some realistic power structures and thus end the factional free-for-all. But we are a long way from that.

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JOHN KERRY'S SYRIAN SECOND CHANCE

Fouad Ajami

Real Clear Politics, March 1, 2013

 

As the war that has degraded and all but partitioned Syria enters its third year, the amorphous coalition known as the Friends of Syria continues to hover just off-stage. The Western democracies, moderate Arab governments and international organizations that constitute the coalition are indeed friends of the opposition to the despotic regime of Bashar Assad—but at arm's length….

 

The latest meeting comes Thursday in Rome, where Secretary of State John Kerry's get-to-know-you European tour will bring him together with the Friends of Syria—and with representatives of the Syrian rebellion. The Friends of Syria would like to broker peace negotiations, but what the Syrian opposition wants and needs is not negotiations: The rebels want to overthrow the murderous Assad regime.…

 

Mr. Kerry, for his part, promises a new beginning: "We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind wondering where the support is or if it's coming," he said Monday. "We are determined to change the calculation on the ground for President Assad." Yet the European arms embargo remains in place and official U.S. policy remains "nonlethal" aid only. If Mr. Kerry merely picks up where his predecessor had left off, there is no salvation in sight for the Syrian people. For the length of two brutal years, while tens of thousands died, Hillary Clinton engaged in "lead from behind" diplomacy and ran out the clock on the Syrian rebellion.

 

To Mrs. Clinton's credit, news recently came to light that she and the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency had argued in favor of arming the Syrian opposition last year but were overruled by a president who wanted no new burdens in an Arab theater of war. One doesn't know what to make of the revelation, or its seriousness. No one resigned on principle.

 

For Mr. Kerry, there is yet another burden—his own role in the disastrous U.S. policy that the Obama administration pursued in Damascus when it came into office. Obama advisers were convinced that the Bush policy had needlessly antagonized the Damascus regime, and that the Americans could "flip" the regime away from Tehran. To that end, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon was sacrificed at the altar of engaging the Syrian ruler.

 

The WikiLeaks cables from Damascus of 2009 and 2010 bear testimony to the American solicitude shown Bashar Assad. He was told that President Bush's "diplomacy of freedom" was a thing of the past. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Kerry took it upon himself to serve as an interlocutor with the Syrian dictator. He was part of the chorus that saw hope in reasoning with the son of Hafez Assad, the military man and Baathist who seized control of Syria in 1970. In Bashar, and his stylish British-born wife, they saw a modern couple bent on opening up a drab and sterile dictatorship.

 

In his defense, Mr. Kerry would maintain that he was only testing the intentions of Damascus, that he had trod a path pursued by such seasoned diplomats as Henry Kissinger and James Baker: The isolation of Damascus had failed as a policy, and he had given "engagement" a try.

 

This is in the past, but not entirely. Mr. Kerry wants to change Assad's calculus, but the despot knows his mind and the rules of the terrible sectarian war he ignited. It would take a major break with the passivity of the past two years to upend the regime.…

 

If Mr. Kerry wants to break the stalemate, he must will the means. The promise to provide "nonlethal" aid directly to the opposition that he is said to have taken to Rome is a step in the right direction. Past humanitarian assistance from the U.S. was channeled through the regime or neighboring countries. Now the push will be to empower the opposition with financial support and equipment.

 

But there is no substitute for military aid that neutralizes the Assad regime's deadly firepower. We must be done with the alibi that we can't arm and see this rebellion to victory because the jihadists now have the upper hand in the ranks of the rebels.

 

The idea that a nation willing to pay such a terrible price for its freedom, to brave fighter jets and Scud missiles, is eager to slip under the yoke of fighters from Libya and Chechnya is manifestly false. Yes, the Nusra Front, a band of non-Syrian jihadists that the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, brought guns and money into the fight. But the opening for the Nusra Front was born of the abdication of those who had it within their means to tip the scales in favor of the rebellion….

 

The fight for Damascus, and the specter of an Iranian victory as it backs Assad in that big Sunni-Shiite struggle, terrifies the moderate Arab regimes. But they, too, have not given this fight their all. Largely because they haven't had the U.S. to lead them.

 

This is "the East," with a scent for power and weakness, with a feel for the intentions and the staying power of strangers. Syria is the place where the will of Iran could be broken. Daily, it seems, we warn Iran of the consequences of its defiance and of its pursuit of nuclear weapons. But could it be that the Iranian theocrats pay U.S. power little heed because they see American passivity not so far from them? 

 

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Don’t Give Weaponry to the Syrian RebelsMichael Rubin, Commentary, Mar. 2, 2013Earlier this week, Senator Marco Rubio gave a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in which he called for the United States to provide ammunition to the Syrian opposition. His colleague, Senator John McCain, has long advocated a more forceful line on Syria, including arms for the Syrian opposition.

 

It's Too Late to Stop Syria Disintegrating: Emanuele Ottolenghi, Standpoint, March 2013I still remember seeing him in my parents' garden, fresh from a trek from hell, running for his life. What remains seared in my memory is how swollen his feet were — covered in sores and too big to fit inside a new pair of shoes without causing him more pain than he could bear. It was the summer of 1992, and the young man I shall call Sasha, then barely 18, had walked from Sarajevo to Italy, in a roundabout way that took him through central Europe and Austria.

 

U.S. Policy on Syria is Self-Defeating: Rami G. Khouri, The Daily Star (Lebanon), Mar. 2, 2013The big question people ask is whether the U.S. should provide military aid to help the Syrian rebels improve their chances of defeating the Assad family regime. The hesitancy of the Obama administration to do this is a classic example of why American foreign policy in the Middle East is so erratic, often leading to the growth of groups that feed off anti-American sentiments.

 

Syrian War is Everybody's Problem: Frida Ghitis, CNN, Mar. 3, 2013Last week, a huge explosion rocked the Syrian capital of Damascus, killing more than 50 people and injuring hundreds. The victims of the blast in a busy downtown street were mostly civilians, including schoolchildren In the northern city of Aleppo, about 58 people — 36 of them children — died in a missile attack last week. The world looked at the awful images and moved on..

 

Syrian Rebels Reported to Take Key City After Heavy Fighting: Hania Mourtada, Alan Cowell and Rick Gladstone, New York Times, Mar. 4, 2013—Syrian rebel fighters seized much of the contested north-central city of Raqqa on Monday after days of heavy clashes with government forces, smashing a statue of President Bashar al-Assad’s father in the central square and occupying the governor’s palace, according to activist groups and videos uploaded to the Internet.

 

 

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