Saturday, 30 September 2017

Extracts from The Impossible Revolution by Yassin al-Haj Saleh

 'Not once have Islamists been excluded in Syria without the exclusion of all independent opposition currents as well, exclusions that left the country a political wasteland. While it is true that including Islamists in a pluralistic political system is not an easy task, the alternative is tried-and-tested, and is unsatisfactory.'
 [Introduction, p5]

 'I also wrote a letter to European intellectuals, urging them to pressure their governments to aid Syrians in their struggle for justice.'

 'Many Syrians, including myself, had no reason to regret that the junta might be punished for at least one of its crimes, after it had used air power, long-range missiles, and chemical weapons against its own people, and after it had killed thousands of them under torture, committed sectarian massacres, and even invited other murderers to join the killing spree. Since that time, it became clear that punishing a murderous régime was something too progressive for the US establishment. A few days later, the Obama administration sealed a deal with the Russians. Not only was the deal a free pass for Bashar al-Assad to go on killing Syrians by other means, but it was also a warrant of immunity against any form of punishment. It was an earth-shattering blow for Syrians who were looking forward to a new progressive Syria. It was also an invaluable boon to Daesh and the al-Nusra front, as well as to the Assads. Impunity is the mother of terrorism: more impunity means more terrorists ranging free.'

 [pp 18-19]

 'It is appropriate to speak in terms of a revolution because many Syrians are radically changing themselves while struggling to change their country and emancipate their fellow Syrians. For that reason in particular, it will be very difficult to defeat the uprising."
 [Chapter 1, The Revolt of the Common People, p30]

 'The real identity of the régime consists of the combination of an obselete, inhumane political apparatus with a glamorous material façade.'

 'Is it not likely that political Islamists will have the final say in a post-Baath Syria? This is a valid speculation. It is not a new issue, nor is it the worst possibility when it comes to personal and clannish dictatorships.'

 'Syrians and observers outside Syria have documented videos showing groups of mukhabarat [secret police] carrying out acts of violence similar to punitive expeditions and colonial campaigns, using tactics that have also characterized sectarian militias from Lebanon [Hezbollah] and Iraq. A film from al-Baidha village is the most famous among these clips, but it is not the only one.There are other videos capturing armed shabiha in uniform, forcing an unarmed man to chant: "There is no god but Bashar". [This is also recorded by the British film-maker Sean McAllister who was making Syria: A Love Story when he was briefly arrested in Syria]. Another shows them commanding a different man to do the same, until the commander ordered them to "bury that animal".; this man kept declaring "There is no god but God" while they proceeded to bury them alive.'
 [Chapter 2 The Syrian Shabiha and Their State, pp 49-50]

 'It is still difficult to describe the violence of the Syrian state security agencies as "state" violence - as legitimately organized - in the same way - in the same way that one cannot describe the infamous Tadmur Prison as a "state" facility. Because in fact, the security agencies are more like an occupying army, one that has thoroughly penetrated society with violence, hostility, and an almost racist supremacy. They have paralyzed society, making resistance impossible outside the context of a full-blown revolution, as seen today.'

 'The etymology of the term "shabiha" [semi-offical rape and extortion gangs] is obscure. Is it perhaps derived from "ashbaah" (ghosts), since the shabiha are outlaws who work in the dark, both literally and figuratively, flickering in and out, and vanishing just as swiftly? Does it stem from the "shabah", a once popular and plateless Mercedes Benz that senior shabiha seemed to prefer for their operations and to set themselves apart. Or perhaps it has to do with the idea of "shabh", the "extending and expanding of privileges and powers," as when someone is forced under torture to a position where his feet barely touch the floor while his hands are high up, tied to a horizontal metal bar. In this case, "privileges" refer to an official authorization for a task, while "tashbih" is the act of torturously "stretching and extending" this authorization, which is what the shabiha do.'

 'If the régime wins its confrontation with the uprising, the government system will be run by tashbih, the country will be ruled by the shabiha, and we will witness levels of brutality and discrimination even more severe than those of the 1980s. If the revolution is crushed, it will not be followed by "reform" of any kind, but by a return to the fascist tashbih for years to come. The present régime knows no other way to govern: when people submit to it, it enslaves them; when they rise up against it, it kills as many of them as it can.'

 'There is a growing anger towards the ritualistic emphasis on the peaceful character of the revolution, an emotion that sometimes leads beyond merely accepting armed confrontation to the point of even embracing it.'
 [Chapter 3, The Danger Of a State Of Nature, p66]

 'Its [the régime] methods of aggression and abuse are known worldwide due to the uprising's own coverage.: nails being ripped out; skinning; electrocution of the genitals and mutilation with sharp objects or lasers (in public hospitals, no less); eye gounging; throttling; in addition to the more traditional methods of corporal punishment (foot whipping, electrocution and sleep deprivation); stripping of prisoners and insulting them individually or as groups - not to mention the insults specifically directed at women and children.'

 'What do arms, religiosity, and the request for international protection have in common? A predisposition toward shelter: for the sake of self-protection or self-defence, one seeks refuge in the Almighty, and seeks shelter from the most powerful.'

 'At the core of the continuing Syrian ordeal is the so-called "régime": insane and extremely aggressive, its character increases the probability that its opponents will be pushed into acting unreasonably. Under such Khaldunian circumstances, in which inevitability rules, there is no place for policy and forethought. The most a sane individual can do is expose the reigning imperatives. This amounts to adopting an observer status, with no effect on the course of events.'
 Towards the end of the second phase of the revolution, and still more during the third, voices within the Syrian opposition began to express reservations about the military section of the revolution, claiming it was responsible for provoking the régime's brutality. But on it own terms the argument is faulty in three regards. The military component was an inevitable and even "objective" response to the régime's brutal violence. One would not expect those who advocate this position would work trying to regulate the activities of the FSA, but if we were to reject these efforts, the outcomes would only lead to uncontrollable chaos. In addition there are thousands of fighters who have been moved to protect their fellow citizens in full awareness that the fate awaiting them at the hands of the régime is gruesome murder. Do we deprive them of any moral or political protection?'
 [Chapter 4, Arms and the Revolution, pp85-86]

 'Today, Syrians cannot choose between the existence and non-existence of the military component. They do have a choice about whether the military component should exist with or without order. There is no question: the former is preferable.'

 'There are serious complications in the militarization of the revolution, and a way must be found to remedy them. There are the human and material losses resulting from militarized conflict, militarization and the use of arms could limit identification with the revolution, and the issues that would confront the (anticipated) post-revolutionary Syria following a peaceful toppling of the régime would be incomparably easier to handle than the issues that would follow an armed ousting of the régime.'

 'To the memory of Hamza al-Khatib.'
 [Hamza al-Khatib was a thirteen year-old boy from Daraa in southwestern Syria. He participated in protests during the early stage of the revolution, and was detained by the notoriously brutal Air Force Intelligence. His mutilated body was delivered to his parents in May 2011, showing a broken neck, severed genitals, and gunshot wounds in his chest and arms]
 [Chapter 5, The Roots of Syrian Fascism, p91]

 'The régime's brutality has been accompanied by flagrant bigotry and incandescent hatred toward the rebels. On examination, one may not find a systematic fascist ideology or distinct fascist social organizations, but rather a mixture of unrestrained violence, and an ideology that at best overlooks violence, at worst justifies and encourages it.'

 'By the time the rebellion began, there were some 150,000 Kurds who had been deprived of citizenship for half a century. Kurds were unseen and unheard in Syria, a situation that led to an understandable exasperation that has manifested itself in an animosity toward Arabs. This will inevitably lead to much ethnic and political upheaval in the near future.'

 'The geographical and cultural separation of Arabs from the rest of the world has laid the foundation for a mistrustful international outlook, particularly toward the West. This scepticism extends to neighbouring non-Arab countries, and even to most other Arab countries, the governments of which are viewed as conspirators or double agents. Conspiracy theories are rampant all over the globe, but in Syria they are central to the régime's political doctrine and worldview.'

 'It is noteworthy that anxieties about cultural invasion arose during the 1990s simultaneously with three events: the wave of democracy in Eastern Europe following the implosion of the Eastern bloc; the peace negotiations with Israel, which violated the doctrine of absolute Arabism (alongside cultural invasion, "anti-normalisation" with Israel became the topic du jour); and the emergence of satellite broadcasting, which broke the state's monopoly over the media. Immunization against cultural invasion became a matter of utmost importance to counter the declining value of official doctrine in the context of growing openness to the world.'

 'The régime's top priority was to remain in power forever. Everything else - including national integration, the restoration to Syrian control of the territories occupied by Israel, social openness, the development of education and of fair judicial systems had to be lower on the list of priorities and subject to sacrifice in situations of conflict with the primary imperative.'
 [Chapter 5, The Roots of Syrian Fascism, p104]

 'Each group sees themselves as superior in their manners, modernity, reason secularism or religion. Each thinks of themselves as victims of the other's bullying (with "self" and "other" defined in terms of ethnic and sectarian language). The other is the most backward , heretical, fanatical, aggressive, or self-centred. Moreover, each group sees itself as the most persecuted, the one exposed to the most extreme form of discrimination, accused of the most despicable charges, and the one whose rights have been flouted the most.

 'Another mechanism mobilized in the service of atomizing the people was the spread of the fear that if we do not kill them, they will kill us.'

 'Tadmur Prison in Palmyra was the place where sectarianism joined with organized fascist violence in the last two decades of the rule of Assad père. The régime was keen to recruit Alawites to fill most positions across the prison; most of the prisoners were Islamists. The characteristic practice of consistent torture throughout those two decades, especially against Islamists, makes it the Assad's true dynamo; it is the shrunken soul of the régime and its core hellish aspect.'

 'Neoliberalism is compatible with political authoritarianism all over the world. In Syria, add to that an inherited tyranny with totalitarian traits, and explicit fascism will be the response to any public uprising. To use Marxist terminology, the régime of Bashar al-Assad is merely the "general staff" of this class.'

 'In addition to reflecting the rise of the new bourgeoisie, the features of modernity that surfaced during the reign of Bashar al-Assad were shaped by a modernist ideology that spread regionally and globally after the fall of the Soviet Union. The new bourgeoisie see the people as backward, illiterate, ignorant fanatics who are responsible for their own living conditions, which are a function of attributes rooted in their beliefs, nothing to do with social and political factors. This modernity is an ideological supplement to the violence carried out by the intelligence services against backwards riffraff.'
 [Chapter 5, The Roots of Syrian Fascism, pp112-114]

 ' "Modernism" provides a ready-made pretext to oppose the revolution because some of its early protests came out of mosques.'

 'The absolutist formula of Arab nationalism functions as a basic mould that shapes the innermost justification for Syrian fascism. Sectarianism provides an emotional supplement that charges Syrian fascism with sentimental passion, and establishes the need for segregation among the people. The class privileges of the new bourgeoisie are the guarantees of protection. A strike against the pillars of fascism must involve a shift toward a constitutional conception of nationalism. It is of the utmost importance to develop an anti-sectarian culture, which above all involves putting the issue on the table, instead of taking the head-in-the-sand approach that most Syrian intellectuals adopt when addressing the régime's taboos and sensitivities.'

 'Over the last fourteen months, three ongoing processes have contributed to the emergence of a tendency toward nihilism. The continuous, aggressive violence by the régime: the killing, torture, arbitrary executions and burning of people. This induces intense feelings of shock and anger, particularly among Sunni Muslim communities, which feel targeted in a discriminatory way by the régime's extreme violence. The deeply divided and ineffective Syrian political opposition; the problem lies specifically in the unnecessary, unjustifiable, and persistent infighting, which is most likely driven by attempts at self-promotion, and the deeply mediocre standing of most opposition spokespersons, manifest in their lack of discipline and a clear, shared vision. The regional and international paralysis regarding the Syrian crisis, which has persisted for over a year. Some Arab countries and world powers initially made clear statements that blamed the Syrian régime for killing its people, statements that reassured Syrians that they were supported in their struggle and their sacrifices, and that the days of the Syrian régime were numbered. Today, however, almost fifteen months into the revolution, these countries and regional powers have done nothing. Their statements have simply not been borne out by action. The régime has concluded from such posturing that it has a free hand to decide the fate of Syrians. This has led to a widespread feeling among Syrians that they have been left to their own devices, and that the world is indifferent to them, if not actively conspiring against them. Syrian collective memory is replete with episodes that justify such scepticism, especially toward the Western powers.'
 [Chapter 6 The Rise of Militant Nihilism, pp122-123]

 'Sunni Islam has incurred the greatest burden as a result of the linkage of Islam and terrorism. If we work to rethink and clarify the concept of terrorism by using it to describe the practice of non-discriminatory, politically motivated violence, one driven in particular by a deep sense of injustice, then, and only then, would it be possible to speak of nihilistic or terrorist tendencies in Syria today. Seen against the régime's suppression of the revolution with unrestrained, terrorizing violence, the issue at hand is the arbitrary violence that is likely to increase. By contrast, it is no mistake at all to describe the terror of the régime as nihilistic, or that the régime is the most nihilistic force in Syria, because of its siege mentality, based on a fundamental withdrawal of trust in the outside world.'

 'The fact that there are reasons for terroristic resistance does not grant it legitimacy. Terrorism may or may not punish the guilty, but it necessarily hurts the innocent, owing to its arbitrariness. Therefore, terrorism possesses a criminal dimension, regardless of its reasons, motives or justifications.'

 'In Syria, there have been operations that could be described as terrorist, but there were also strong, plausible suspicions about the régime's involvement in organizing them to look that way. While there is no doubt about the expansion of the use of violence by agents opposed to the régime, most of that violence is not nihilistic. There have been examples of unfocused, chaotic violence, unacceptable from the point of view of justice and human rights. However, these violations remain limited in comparison with those committed by the régime.'

 'Until recently the modern history of Syria hadn't witnessed a slogan as unique as "Assad or no one!" or its twin, "Assad or we burn the country!" 9both versions rhyme in Arabic. It appeared not prior to but in the context of practice, from which it derived its power. It is a catchy slogan: shockingly honest, incredibly obscene, and strikingly extremist. It is a condensed expression of the "theory" and practice of the Syrian régime.'
 [Chapter 7, "Assad or No One", p149]

 'We have four Syrias, with four symbols. There is "Assad's Syria", whose symbol is Assad's image. Second is the "Syrian Arab Republic". However, this group lacks an independent political will, something reflected in the acquiescence of the "Syrian Arab Republic" to "Assad's Syria". Insurgent Syria is symbolized by the flag with the green stripe on top. Many come from deteriorating cities and towns; alongside them are a well-educated, independent segment of the middle class and a diverse group of intellectuals and political activists. It includes some who are keen to highlight an Islamic dimension to their opposition by adding the phrase Allahu Akbar (God is Great) to the white stripe in the middle of the green flag. Finally we have a Salafist, Sunni Syria, which is symbolized by the black banner. This Syria is mostly rural. Assuming the régime or "Assad's Syria" falls at some point, many who follow the red flag would turn to the green. Winning the struggle against "Assad's Syria is likely to reveal more cleavages among those who follow the black banner as well, separating the rigid jihadist and Salafist groups from those occupying a "grey zone", as well as those who take the black banner as a representation of a general Islamic identity and a regained religiosity. I think the Salafist current is more complicated than it appears to be. This is one of the biggest questions that confronts the Syrian revolution: solving this riddle is incontestably a top priority. In passing let me point to a distinction between Salafist jihadists, such as the Nusra Front and ISIS (Nusra pledged allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri in what could be interpreted as a struggle with Daesh [ISIS] for al-Qaeda legitimacy), and the "Army of Islam" and similar groups. For the latter, the link between Salafism and jihad is less essential because these groups are composed of local Syrians. The former are Islamic Internationalists, in organization and political vision.'
 [Chapter 8, An Image, Two Flags, and a Banner, pp158-165]

 'A range of outside "sponsors", mainly from the Gulf States, have found their way to the revolution: they combine Salafist religiosity and wealth, and have used their rentier money to corrupt as many as possible.'

 'From the revolutionary viewpoint, the black banner has the same alienating effect as the presidential image: both are united by their exclusion of dissent. Assadist slogans have been modified and turned into Islamic ones in many areas, "al-Assad or No One!" turned into a poorly spelled version "al-Aslam or No One!" Assadists are but one small party imposing itself on the public sphere. Likewise, Aslamists are those Islamists who desire Assad's power for themselves.'

 'Supporters of the green flag feel left to their own devices. The régime has not only used fighter jets and long-range missiles against them but also chemical weapons, and it has morphed the Syrian struggle into a sectarian regional war on Syria soil. (Note: My reference to chemical weapons here illustrates the many tactical uses to which the régime has put them. I personally witnessed two attacks in April and June of 2013 in East Ghouta, before the chemical massacre in August 2013).'

 'The new Syria is capable of being - and should be - the product of an historic compromise between the green and red flags to the exclusion of Assadist imagery and the black Aslamist banner.'

 'Once Bashar took office, Syria was introduced to a form of economic liberalization, one usually referred to as "crony capitalism". The traditional opposition has not developed a thorough understanding of the régime's new centres of gravity: wealth and extraordinary privilege, along with political domination and the security apparatus. Today, the régime is a security-political-financial complex.'
 [Chapter 9, The Destiny of the Syrian Revolution, p178]

 'Violence has affected millions of Syrians, and poisoned the souls of all. Airstrikes have targeted populated areas, including a series of strikes on bread lines in August of 2012; populated areas have been bombarded by long-range scud missiles; and 21 August 2013 witnessed chemical weapon attacks that killed 1466 people and injured about 10,000 in East Ghouta. A very large number of people experience daily scenes of blood, death, and dismembered human bodies. Because of death's abundant presence, and from fear of being targeted, no one attends funerals anymore except a few relatives of the victims. The above shouldindicate something of the hell into which millions of Syrians have been living for the last thirty months. Nearly one-third of Syrians (about 7 million people) have been displaced from their homes. This is comparable neither to the Nakba (Palestinian exodus) of 1948 and 1967, nor to the wave of Iraqi asylum seekers that followed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is likely that there are 200,000 people held in detention centres around Syria: merciless torture is carried out every day. This brutality has likely played a role in the resort to armed resistance, and in the preference of many people to risk death in combat rather than detention. Countless women have been raped in prison or in their homes by the régime's forces or by the shabiha. The number of those injured and disabled may be half a million or more.'

 'The ancient Arabs believed that a bird called al-Sada leaves the body of a slain man and shrieks unceasingly until revenge is taken. Today there are undoubtedly tens of thousands of al-Sada birds crying out for revenge all over Syrian skies.'
 [Chapter 9, The Destiny of the Syrian Revolution, pp181-182]

 'To extinguish the prevailing violence, by any means possible and at the hands of whomever, has become a legitimate aspiration. The abused, the vulnerable, and the humiliated cannot rightly be blamed for it.'

 'The problem is that as Assad's violence continues, there is very limited space for public, organized opposition to violence and arbitrariness - but it is only organized public action that might be capable of stemming the tide.'

 ' "Foreignness is still a pertinent characteristic even when these jihadists are Syrian. JIhadists are foreign everywhere, their homeland is their doctine.'

 'To me, the tension between [ the Nusra Front and ISIS] doesn't seem to be about a consistent Syrian-national orientation. Instead, it is linked to the Front's better understanding of the Syrian environment when compared to Daesh [ISIS]. This state of affairs, however, conflicts with the jihadists' explicitly internationalist intellectual and political models, and it is not clear how this interpretive conflict might be resolved. Will the Front come to resemble Daesh and possibly dissolve into it? Or will it be resolved in favour of interests within the Syrian framework, of the ansar [local supporters]?'

 'The story of Michel Samaha presents a typical example of the role played by the Syrian mukhabarat (intelligence apparatus) in the jihad trade. Samaha is a former Lebanese minister who is currently (in 2017) serving a jail sentence in Lebanon for plotting to detonate bombs targeting some Christian figures in order to frame Islamic jihadists, at the behest of Assad's intelligence services. His example shows that the mukhabarat play a role that goes beyond dirty tricks: they are also adept at shuffling the cards in order to manipulate the minds and attitudes of the public. This is one of the most important aspects of intelligence work, and likely constitutes a large part of what Syrian intelligence does, alongside its Iranian and Russian partners. In Raqqa questions have arisen about the régime's air force. They have never launched airstrikes on Daesh's headquarters, despite the fact that it is located at the well-known local Provincial Palace. But they have shelled other populated sits, and killed civilians continuously. Is it possible to avoid the suspicion of links of some sort between the régime and Daesh?'

 'Last April in Eastern Ghouta, I heard a saying attributed to Ho Chi Minh: "If you want to destroy a revolution, shower it with money!" Money has played a hugely corrupting role, and come close to killing the spirit of initiative, volunteerism and courage that arose during the first year of the revolution.'

 'Daesh is the most obvious example of a religious-military fief, and is the one most inclined to avoid conflict with the régime. Daesh calls itself a "sate" but it acts on the communities under its control like a colonial power. Other military organizations frequently enter into open hostilities with Daesh: this happened in Raqqa during the first two weeks of August [2013] with the Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade ("Grandsons of the Prophets"), which is associated with the General Staff of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and again with the FSA during the first week of July in the town of Dana, near the Turkish border in the province of Idlib.'

 'The lack of discipline among some of the FSA groups, and the notoriety of some other groups linked to it, provide fertile grounds for Islamic militant groups, which may not usurp private properties, but which do see public property as a reservoir for acceptable plunder. The Salafist Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiyya (Islamic Movement of the Free Men of Syria) seized the equivalent of 6 billion Syrian pounds (around 50 million US dollars at that time) from the Central Bank of Raqqa after wresting control of the city from the régime in the first week of March 2013. No one knows how that enormous sum of money has been spent, and the movement has not provided any statement or account of the fate of those public funds to anyone.'

 'According to Islamists, the world is an evil, corrupt, dangerous, and offensive place that is secretly controlled by Israel and the US, which use the Arab régimes as pawns. I have heard this simple harangue from Islamic jihadists, who take it as the one and only truth. The standard accusation against opponents of the Assad régime has always been collaboration with an unidentified enemy - usually the US and Israel. But it seems Daesh considers every independent Syrian activist to be an agent of NATO. This accusation is a legacy from al-Qaeda's experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.'

 'The Assad régime has no problem coexisting with religious-military fiefdoms. The régime was the first to speak about them, and is likely to have been involved with engineering some of them. Before the revolution, the régime was already a private military fiefdom ruled by a hereditary emir: Assad. He would have preferred to restore the status of a full emirate to his rule, but only because he cherishes his inheritance.'

 'As the Lebanese academic Gilbert Achcar has written: "The sooner the Syrian régime falls, the better. The longer it stays in power, the greater the risk of sinking the country in barbarism.'

 'The dynamic of military feudalism is linked to violence, the emergence of jihadists, the role played by various secret services, and political money. However the most powerful and potentially explosive of these drivers is the continuation of the régime as an "Israel-like" aggressive power in an exposed "Palestine-like" world surrounding it. The fall of the régime would not mean an immediate end to the process of "feudalization" - but there is no hope of stopping this feudalization without overthrowing the régime.' Perhaps the overthrow of the régime would put new counter-dynamics into play for the benefit of a new form of Syrian nationalism that could halt the creeping "un-reason" with which religion conceals and protects fragmentation, tyranny, and the plunder of public resources.

 'I vote for the Syrian nation-state. The idea of a Syrian nation can provide a consistent, positive orientation for combatting the Salafist jihadist formations and other tendencies toward military feudalism, including those of Assad. Syria is a historical asset, a foundation from which all Syrians can benefit. What would subsidiary entities created by dismembering the Syrian body really be? What would be their histories and meanings?'

 'We know nothing about the course of a path leading to a new governable, livable Syria. Bot the truth remains that there is nothing progressive, national or humane about "Assad's Syria", or about Salafist Syria (already many Syrias), or about a Kurdish strip of Syria that does not care about locals' opinions and preferences and that is now a source of additional conflict and violence in an already afflicted country.'

 'The Syrian situation is likely to develop in one of four or five directions. One possibility is that the Assad régime will triumph. This is unlikely within current horizons. Such an outcome would devolve into the rule of shabiha (Assadist thugs) and into extreme forms of brutality, looting, murder, detention, and torture. It would also result in an aggressive Iranian domination of the country. Syrian society would be crushed economically, politically, and psychologically. Another possibility is a victory for the revolution by force. We would likely get an Islamic régime rather than a Baathist one: instead of "comrades" ruling us, we would be ruled by "brothers". The most likely outcome to follow getting rid of the Assad fiefdom would be a new conflict among or against the new fiefdoms - first, the aggressive Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but also all the other, less coherent and organized fiefdoms. A third possibility is a peaceful, political settlement through which the régime undergoes a fundamental change and the page is turned on "Assad's Syria". There is not the slightest indication that this is likely to happen. The régime's structure is open to only two choices: remain the same or break down entirely. The fourth possibility is the persistence of current conditions. Edward Luttwak theorized, characterizing the conflict as the régime and its allies against an opposition dominated by Islamists, that a prolonged stalemate is the only outcome that would not harm US interests. The actual situation in the past thirty months coheres with such a perfidious judgement. Finally, isn't there a fifth possibility of international military intervention? I would expect this potential interference would take the form of Israeli-style strikes against specific sites to punish and discipline the régime but not to bring it down. This would save face for the Obama administration after the Assad régime's frequent use of chemical weapons. It would give the régime a moral victory: it came out of an international confrontation still able to strike and abuse. The prospect of a full-blown intervention to topple the régime seems non-existent because it would add the régime to the list of targeted enemies alongside jihadist formations, al-Qaeda and the like.'

 'Conventional wisdom on sectarianism holds that it stems from the existence of "sects" in a given society, and that sects are nothing but various confessional groups, coexisting in a natural state of constant dispute, mistrust, or even war. Yet this theory fails to explain why only certain societies are prone to overt sectarian tension, even though hardly any society is free of religious and ideological diversity.'
 [Chapter 10, The Neo-Sultanic State, p213]

 'It is worth mentioning that stripping the Syrian Army of its active political character and turning it into a tool of oppression went hand in hand with turning the page on the war between Syria and Israel (1973-74),. Almost immediately - in 1976 - a new chapter began with war waged against the Palestinians and Lebanese in Lebanon, and then against Syrians in Syria. The army changed from a highly politicized national army to a passive political tool serving as a guardian of tyranny. It is not accurate to describe either Hafez's rule or that of his son Bashar as a military régime. The correct description is an intelligence system, or a system revolving around its own survival and security function, which is based on intelligence services in times of peace and on military units with a security function in wartime.'

 'What is the significance of a policy that favours Alawites, one that places them in high military and security posts? It points to the transformation of a social category into a public political caste. I refer to a public political caste for the purpose of conceptually representing the discriminatory situation benefitting Alawites, with implying that Alawite are politically free or that they are rules, just as the situation regarding the public religious caste, Sunnis, whose doctrines were generalized socially through law, does not bring tangible benefits to all or most Sunnis, but nevertheless counts as a structural advantage for Sunnis in those areas.'

 'The considerable revenues of sectarianism, in the form of straightforward identification with the régime and profuse loyalty, all place the Assad régime in a stronger position to confront the public. By contrast the creation of a national trust requires large-scale investment in education, the legal system, economy, and culture to secure long-term revenues.'

 'Sectarianism is largely a power relation. When we speak of sectarianism, we speak of hatred, coercion, of war, camouflage, and deception. Such demonstrable associations explain how, over time, sectarianism came to constitute a reservoir or pretexts for murder, crime, massacres, and endless wars.'

 'At an early stage in the reign of Hafez al-Assad, two distinct states began to take shape in Syria, a visible "outer state", comprised of a government, administration, official army, educational institutions, and courts, who have neither power nor freedom, and a private and sectarian "inner state" that enjoys sovereignty over people's fates, internal domestic affairs, public resources, and regional and international relations. To illustrate the duality, Riyad Hijab, who had served as prime minister for a time in 2012 before his defection in August of that year, theoretically held the second-highest position in the "state" after Bashar al-Assad. However, Jamil Hassan, who serves as Head of Syrian Air Force Intelligence Directorate (the most brutal division during the revolution in Syria), occupies a much more significant position within the state. Hassan is a "régime man", and he give orders more than he negotiates. By contrast the prime minister can barely broker even trivial matters, such as the appointment of a new employee, and lists of dismissed staff are sent to him direct from intelligence.'

 'The the early years of his [Hafez al-Assad's] reign, a new class started to emerge in the Baathist realm. It relied on income generated from two sources: the monopolization of the business of public coercion; and the formation of compulsory partnerships with the remnants of the traditional bourgeoisie. Gradually, the level of social justice began to decline. Occupying a position of public authority started to become a way of ensuring socio-economic advantage. Security forces that had just emerged victorious from confronting both active social and political protests and armed conflicts against Islamists (1979-1982) were given the green light to commit atrocities and rewarded with privileges including mandatory partnerships with local notables. Aside from this, income comes from extorting large segments of the population, or the direct transfer of income to this feared security janissary. Such circumstances justify talking about an internal colonialism, that provides a framework that allows armed Aassadist squads to seize private property through tashbih (bullying and intimidation) and robbery. The above is sufficient to give a sense of the extent of our non-existent social justice. The legal system also fell to pieces. The security system handled judicial functions without any interference. Not once in decades of Assad's rule was a security official held accountable for his crimes against the public, including cases of torture, murder, and confiscations of properties on a large scale.'

 'To the extent that power was centred on the person of the president, loyalty to him became the greatest of values. An epidemic of report writing sent to the security services by informants began in the 1970s. Loyalty was always mixed with fear, and with personal gain at others' expense. These practices were in effect national training in treachery. The security agencies were schools for malice, treachery, and cynicism. But above all, they were factories of terror and murder. Getting rid of this system and putting its leaders on trial is a national duty, second to none.'

 'Instead of sending delegations of notables to support the new Sultan as a sign of allegiance and loyalty, under Assad the people were obliges to place their votes of approval in ballot boxes in a manner that was both ostentatious and carnivalesque, with security monitoring to inhibit those who might dare to vote no.'

 'In the eighties, the Sultan - as a person and as a régime - became the most important thing in the country. The highest value became power, with money and kinship competing for second place. The significance of values such as work, knowledge, competence, and culture was in steep decline. How are needs met in "Assad's Syria"? By being someone with power or close to someone in power. This is very effective, but not available to many. By money. In most case applicants are people who already live in poverty. They express this state of affairs in simple language. This is zulm (injustice)! Zulm is a lack of money combined with a lack of an influential network. A third way of serving needs is kinship. Our only Shiite comrade in prison was released in 1982, after a year and a half in detention; because his father secured a meeting with Hafez al-Assad; the father belonged to one of the national Progressive front (NPF) parties (a coalition of pet communist and Nasserite parties under the leadership of the Baath Party - officially, the NPF is the highest political command in the country).'

 'There is a class of tame "oppositionists". They keep the telephone of numbers of key intelligence officers: this allows them to masquerade as mediators between their partisan "sects" and the intelligence services. These "oppositionists" are practically part of the régime through the role they play as intermediaries. As Lenin differentiated between "His Majesty's Opposition" and "Opposition to His Majesty" before the Bolshevik Revolution, one should distinguish between "His Excellency's Opposition" and "Opposition to His Excellency" in Syria. The presence of the former is contingent upon the existence of His excellency, and would disappear with him.'

 'There are greater number of intelligence officers, army men, and other influential, powerful men in the Alawite milieu (10-12 per cent of the population) than there are in other confessional communities. The availability of clientelism to Alawite partially makes up for a lack of money and modifies the severity of injustice. There are also bishops and businessmen in the Christian milieu (about 5 per cent of the population, before the revolution) with whom the régime is keen to reconcile. The régime gives special attention to Christians to expand its social base, and to enhance its "international" legitimacy - posing, in fact, as the protector of minorities and of Christians in the eyes of the "secular" West. Widespread discrimination and the lack of access to wasta [mediation] in non-urban Sunni environments helps explain why political mobilization in the Arab Sunni community takes an Islamic form. Among Kurds (8-10%) there are influential figures as well, although this small network consisting of a few individuals is likewise unable to mediate for the whole Kurdish community. This deficit is the reason for the high level of political mobilzation within the Kurdish community, and helps explain why it takes a nationalist form. These realities help explain the fact that the strongest victimhood (mazloomiya, a word etymologically related to zulm) narratives in Syria today are Kurdish and Sunni. In the Alawite community, by comparison, a narrative of superiority (self-attributed to " modernity" in general and "secularism" in particular) is more prevalent today than the narrative of victimhood that had been very powerful until the 1970s.'

 'It is useful here to recall three important points. A routine, publicly available means of meeting people's needs barely exists. Money performs all the functions of favouritism, but is also governed by a principle of scarcity. One is required to look for wasta among relatives, but not among strangers. Kinship becomes the necessary framework for pursuing and meeting one's needs. This process already permeates victimhood and superiority narratives, conflicts and risks, violence and victims - all things that the neo-Sultanic régime has engendered in abundance over the last two generations.'

 'We now live in a post-September 11 world, one that has placed "Islam" - Sunni Islam in particular - in the position of global villain. This climate has revived old colonial discourses centred on Islam and fundamentalism. These discourses advocate a coercive secularism and systematically denigrates the "unenlightened" and the "irrational". Any cruelties visited upon such people are greeted with tolerance and leniency by both the Western and domestic "first world".'

 'With the decline of the social functions of the state, new forms of severe deprivation emerged - 37 per cent of Syrians were living below the upper poverty threshold ($2/day in 2007) while 11 per cent were below the lower poverty threshold (near $1/day in 2004). Most people of the lower class never have their needs served, and have no access to the "keys" through which their needs can be met. This is a spring of resentment and anger. The Syrian revolution broke out due to a confluence of two things: a chronic failure of the régime, the consequences of which were suppressed by the so-called "wall of fear" in Syria; and positive, successful examples in Tunisia and Egypt that gave the impression it was possible to topple Sultanic fortifications. Initially, the main participants in the revolution came from two sectors: the "working society", who wanted legal justice, relations of citizenship, and "freedom"; and the impoverished sectors of the population. Later, these were joined by some secondary, less influential members of the new notables,such as ministers, members of parliament, and ambassadors - those whose power did not go beyond that of the outer state, or had limited influence within it.'

 'Why have we not seen privatization of the public resources and facilities in Syria? The answer is simple: the Sultanic transformation. Through the transformation, the state and the country as a whole became the property of the Sultan and the ruling dynasty. Privatization is unnecessary because of the private condition of the state.'

 'The revolution against Islamic rule will not be complete until the role of sects is crushed - only then will the population be emancipated from the status of subjects and from the chains of dependency.'

 'The policies of neo-Sultanic rule are based on spreading fitna [disorder] among the governed, so that it may remain above all the rest, lofty and condescending.'

 'The sectarian régime is only sustainable to the extent it provides discriminatory identification for a certain sect or sectarian alliance, but its ultimate goal is to create personal profits and privileges for first the Sultan and then for the new notables. The régime succeeds as long as the barriers that divide the poor at the bottom (Sunnis and Alawites for example) are greater than the ones that separate the lower class from the middle (a lower-class Alawite from an Alawite notable). What is important for the élite of the sectarian régime is the power and wealth in their possession. The rights and dignity of the people are secondary, mere rhetorical tools of governance.'

 'The shabiha opened what they themselves called "the Sunni market" with goods looted from neighbourhoods in and around Homs, about a year after the outbreak of the revolution. This phrase affords a deep glimpse into sectarian phenomena as relatinships of power and coercion - here, as a direct tool for looting and transfer of wealth. Such things are not, under any circumstances, a matter of beliefs and identities.'

 'Lebanon is a neo-Sultanic state without a Sultan. In the context of present interconnections between the two Sultanates, Lebanon is the incomplete one with a large "security branch" (i.e. Hezbollah) that is leaning more towards Sultanism, and the complete model is currently beset by a revolution. However, the situation in Lebanon follows the situation in Syria, and the very Syrian Sultan today follows the Iranian imperial centre, as does the Lebanese "Intelligence Branch". The key to the regional face of sectarianism is the Sultan and territorial control, not, under any circumstances, religious and sectarian groups, Shiites, Sunnis, and so on.'

 'A few years before the revolution, the expression ramrameh (Ramization) became popular, referring to how the most lucrative secors of the Syrian economy were handed over to Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of Bashar, and the Assad family, effectively making him the "economic sultan" of Syria. In that period, there was a common joke that the Syrian economy is either Mukhalef (unlawful) or Makhlouf.'

 'The outer, local bourgeoisie is highly sectarian and generally plunders its own sects.The central bourgeoisie plunders public resources and wider society. The central bourgeoisie also distinguishes itself through its monopoly of revenues from economic exchanges with the outside world, along with projects and assets outside Syria; the outer bourgeoisie is exclusively domestic.'

 'Is there any justification for using the concept of bourgeoisie in naming these two groups? Should we not rather talk about feudal lords? Despite the political restrictions against most Syrians, they are not serfs tied to their place of work. Anotherthing that justifies my hesitation in describing these groups as feudal is that they are not stable hereditary classes.
Cllectively the new bourgeoisie and the Sultanic centre form what might be called the society of white Syrians, superior in class and culture to a black backward, intolerant, and obscurantist public. It includes the "enlightened" and "civilised" Sunni Muslims who are loyal to the Sultanic centre, and who renounce all the democratic opponents of Sultanism, those who are actually preoccupied with issues of justice, equality, and human dignity, regardless of their religious and sectarian backgrounds.'

 ‘The guard forces, leaders aside, are not part of the bourgeoisie. In fact, the guards often complain about the bourgeoisie and openly resent them. Despite the explicitly negative feelings, the guard forces do not rebel against the bourgeoisie. Security and military forces with security functions have never, not even once, sided with the general population or expressed a sense of connection with them After the revolution began, defections were very rare.’
 [Chapter 10, The Neo-Sultanic State, p274]

 ‘The death of Hafez inaugurated the time of the dynasty. The Assad family has taken the place of the father – not only because Bashar is weaker than his father or less qualified, but because whoever succeeds Hafez is an heir, he is not the founder nor is he the greatest. Sticking with him is required for the cohesion of the Sultanic family and the Sultanate as a whole, but this does not signal an appreciation of his personhood. Bashar has no personal use value, only an exchange or public value. When necessary, he can be replaced. That is possible one day.’

 ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’s version of “Islam” can also be a mask for a Sunni privilege to discriminate in favour of Sunnis. Sectarian and illiberal animosity against Islam is no excuse for exempting aspirations for Sunni dominance from criticism.’

 ‘Bouthaina Shaaban, the bigoted and deluded advisor to Bashar, brought up fitna (strife) and Salafi emirates only about ten days into the revolution. Later, she became known for her statements about the victims of the chemical attacks in Ghouta, saying they were abducted children from “the coast”, (i.e. Alawites) and attributing her words to the people of the region. Following the “Caesar” report early in 2014, which revealed that 11,000 people had died under torture between March 2011 and August 2013, her poor reputation was reinforced by the way she lashed out in response to a question from CNN about the victims of torture. Advisor Shaaban said: “Isn’t the West Christian? Do you not care about the fate of Christians who were kidnapped by the terrorists of Ma’loula?” ‘

 ‘Early on, the régime’s journalists attributed a slogan to the protests that I personally believe was coined by Michel Samaha: “Alawites to their coffins, Christians to Beirut!” It is unfathomable how such a slogan would reportedly arise only during demonstrations in Latakia!’

 ‘What has happened since mid-2012 was a handover of leadership to the Iranians and their followers from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The 18 July 2012 assassination of top Syrian military and intelligence officers could have been a settling of accounts to the benefit of Sultanic hawks and their Iranian patron. Until this time, peaceful demonstrations were on the rise; the highest number recorded was in June 2012, when there were more than 700 demonstration locations. Warplanes began to be used against cities in July,. Bombing of the bread lines in front of bakeries in Aleppo and neighbouring regions took place in August 2012. We also recall that before the end of 2012, chemical weapons and Scud missiles began to be used. The shabiha were institutionalized before the end of that year as well, with many of its members receiving training in Iran. All this was preceded by well-known sectarian massacres in Houla, al-Qubeir, Karm al-Zaytoun, and Banias, and by the emergence of the “Sunni Market”. Earlier the regime released jailed Salafi jihadists. Meanwhile the blogger Tal al-Mallouhi, the eighteen year-old girl arrested on 26 December 2009 and framed as a spy and sentenced to five years, is still in Adra prison.’

 ‘Syrians must regain their country from its current neo-Sultanic rule. Syria needs an effective system of administration and legal justice that ensures people’s needs are met regardless of their kinships and their wealth.’

 ‘Contemporary Salafism is a schismatic phenomenon, hostile to the world. Its only destination is death, In my opinion, Daesh has stepped up because the revolution as an aspiration to own life and liberty has stumbled and fallen. Salafism emerged because there are no social revolutionaries in Syria. Salafists’ social bases have overtaken those of the social revolutionary forces.’

 ‘Whatever the political paths leading out of the current situation may be, it seems that opportunities for deliverance from jihadist Salafism (including Daesh, al-Nusra Front, and others) will be limited without deliverance from the Assads. Assad’s Sultanate and jihadist Salafism are two sides of a single process of national destruction.’

 ‘What we need in Syria is a combination of social and legal justice, and a mixture of republican political activity along with a greater degree of local democratic governance. This would address legitimate Kurdish demands, respond to vital development needs, and reduce sectarianism as well as the prospect of emergent state-dominating sects or denominations.’

 ‘We must ensure equal rights for Alawite Syrians as individuals and as a community. Alawites are not Sunni, and neither are Druze, Ismailis or Shiites: they should not have to endure Sunni education in schools or refrain from public expressions of their own identities. Similarly, the Kurds are not Arabs: they should not be stripped of their personality and language, and Arabic should not be imposed on them.’

 ‘I have tried to develop some conceptual categories that might be useful: public sect, private state/outer state/inner state, and the idea of the neo-Sultanic state, along with the distinction between the two sides of sectarianism (guarding and clientelist), and the distinction between segments of the new bourgeoisie.’

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