Saturday, 2 December 2017

No stability without liberty

 Jean-Pierre Filiu:

 'Syria has been undergoing a revolutionary process since 2011, while the Assad regime unleashed a ruthless counter-revolution under the pretence of a “civil war.” I never thought such “war” could be won or lost by any party, but I do believe that introducing war dynamics was a deadly trap laid by the Assad regime to divert most of the revolutionary energies into a desperate fight for survival. I spent part of the summer of 2013 in the “liberated” part of Aleppo, which had been under the control, for a year at the time, of the revolutionary forces. The military dimension of the confrontation between “liberated” East Aleppo and “loyalist” West already appeared to me as being secondary when compared with the crucial development of an alternative self-government in the “liberated” areas. This is what the Assad dictatorship and its unconditional backers in Russia and Iran wanted to suppress at any cost: the very possibility of an alternative. I was appalled when the “liberated” East thought it could “conquer” West Aleppo during the summer of 2016. This military delusion led to the collapse of the following autumn. So it is now obvious that the Assad regime cannot be defeated militarily. But I never thought it could be. Likewise, I never thought the dictatorship could “win” since it can only conquer ruins rather than cities.

 It has to be crystal-clear that, for the Assad regime, the so-called “reconstruction” is the continuation of its merciless war against its own people, now using other means. There is absolutely no possibility for a credible, sustainable, and inclusive reconstruction if operated under the sponsorship of such a dictatorship. First, because this regime will treat as hostile the populations in the areas formerly held by the opposition, prevent their return home, and coerce the remaining inhabitants. Second, because the so-called “reconstruction” is the only way for the Assad regime to pay part of the colossal debt it has accumulated towards its Russian and Iranian patrons. Criminal networks connected with the centers of power in Moscow (or Grozny, for the Chechens) and Tehran (or Beirut, for Hezbollah) are already active in this very profitable business. Donors have to understand once and for all that the Assad regime is not a state interested in the welfare of its citizens but a regime obsessed by its own logic of predation and suppression. Such a regime would never hesitate to refuse any international aid that would come with even a minimal string attached. There should be no hope of using the “carrot” of reconstruction money to extract any concession from the Assad regime. Contributing to the so-called “reconstruction” of Syria in those circumstances means collaborating with a dictatorship accused of the worst crimes against its own people.

 My main thesis in From Deep State to Islamic State is that dictatorships unleashed—voluntarily in Syria, involuntarily in Egypt—unbridled jihadi violence in order to catch the revolutionary forces in a crossfire, forcing them to fight on both sides. Obviously, [Abd al-Fattah] Sisi’s coup in Egypt, in July 2013, despite the unprecedented repression that has followed ever since, has not managed to counter the steady escalation of jihadi violence, first in the Sinai peninsula, now on the Egyptian mainland. As such, pure military repression cannot defeat the jihadi threat it contributes to nurture, even when the balance of power between the Egyptian army and the jihadi insurgency is at least one hundred to one in favor of the security forces.

 The situation was very different in Syria, when the first major defeat of ISIS unfolded through the “second revolution” launched by anti-Assad forces in January 2014 in the northern and eastern parts of the country. But the Assad regime, and of course Russia and Iran, were more interested in crushing those very forces that had defeated ISIS than in fighting jihadists. Remember that ISIS could regain control over Palmyra, already under its domination from May 2015 to March 2016, while the pro-Assad forces were too busy fighting the opposition in Aleppo in December 2016. It is only last March that ISIS was finally ousted from Palmyra. If you compare ISIS today with the first “Islamic State in Iraq,” proclaimed in 2006 and largely defeated in 2007, ISIS is now much stronger, with a vast range of branches over the Middle East and beyond. And the same factors that allowed ISIS to strike back after 2007 are still there, just much worse, with at their forefront the exclusion of the local populations from decision making processes.

 The fall of the “wall of fear” in the Arab world in 2011 was as important for the fate of Europe as the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. But only a minority of Europeans felt their collective future was bound to what was happening on the southern shore of the Mediterranean. Instead of organizing an effective solidarity movement with the progressive forces of the democratic uprisings, most European decision-makers remained aloof. Their tacit choice for “stability” versus “liberty” facilitated the disastrous outcome of the refugees’ waves and terror attacks.

 There is no authentic “stability” without the guarantee of the basic collective and individual freedoms. Contrary to the usual clichés, dictatorships are basically unstable; first because they function on a “civil war” logic internally; second because those nefarious dynamics nurture the “exportation” of terrorism outside of their borders. I was a diplomat for nearly two decades before joining academia in 2006, so I know from experience that morally-flawed options can lead only to more crises and troubles. Look at the result of nearly seven years of supposedly “realist” policies in the Middle East: millions of refugees, historical cities turned to ruins, entire communities displaced and exiled, unprecedented levels of sectarian hatred, economies in shambles, education and health systems devastated, and all this at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars that could have been better spent on development projects and institution building. Such blind and heartless “realism” has completely lost touch with the reality of the lives and aspirations of the women and men living in the region. An ethical approach is the only way to reconnect with this human reality that will shape, for better or for worse, the future of the Middle East, which matters so much for the rest of the world.'

Image result for jean pierre filiu

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

As Syrian Government Trumpets Military Wins, Fear Continues to Grip Locals in Damascus

 'Salma was scrolling through her Facebook newsfeed when an unverified piece of news struck her as bizarrely funny: Halloween celebrations have been banned in public places in Syria.

 ”Apparently they have taken pity on us. Our lives here are already a never-ending Halloween.”

 In a country gripped by a devastating conflict like the Syrian war, Halloween's flippant, playful quips contrast with serious, gruesome horrors that have become part of the Syrians’ macabre reality. Although the capital city Damascus has been spared the worst of fighting, different shades of fear diffuse the lives of the Damascenes.

 Salma, 29, lives in a squalid neighborhood with a heavy military presence in southern Damascus. Armed, bearded men dressed in military outfit affiliated to the so-called National Defense Forces, a pro-government militia, man checkpoints.

 ”I have to run this gauntlet every day on my way to work and back home,” she says.

 One might assume that after more than six years of military checkpoints, set up to tighten the Assad regime's grip on the capital since protests first flared up in 2011, locals would have reconciled themselves to their presence. The case is far from it, according to many, including Salma.

 ”They have made our lives difficult, causing delays and congestion. They are choking our city. I hate it when I have to return home after sunset. My pulse races under their fixed gaze. I feel ill at ease to say the least. Sometimes they are tipsy, laughing out loud and carousing. They can do anything and get away with it. Who is there to protect us after all? There is a state of chaos and lawlessness everywhere. The state is busy coping with the consequences of war.

 Salma fumbles for the right words to describe how she feels. ”You feel naked, unarmed and powerless in the presence of this heavy-handed arrogant military prowess.”

 Doaa, a university student at the Faculty of Dentistry, echoes her thoughts:

I have long stopped wearing makeup or revealing clothes, although I have always been a free girl, just to avoid getting myself into trouble. Soft catcalling or flirtation in the street used to be a stroke to a woman's ego. But during war, you can only find men dressed in military outfit, usually armed, in the streets. It makes me jittery. They are arrogant about the power they have over the locals.
 If my name is found, I will be dispatched to one of the front lines.

 For military-aged men, checkpoints continue to be a constant source of horror. The government has been using these checkpoints to conscript new soldiers to the Syrian forces, which are depleted from a protracted conflict. Fear of arrest and conscription has prompted many between the ages of 18-42 to flee the country in waves of undocumented immigration to countries next door and in the European Union. Those who have stayed behind grapple with daily difficulties, pushing many to shut themselves in.

 ”My permit to postpone military service is about to expire. I am not going out unless on urgent errands,” says Hisham, who has a law degree from Damascus University. 
They would search databases saved on their computers. If my name is found, I will be dispatched to one of the front lines. Every time I passed one of these checkpoints was an outright nightmare. I would wait with bated breath for the military man to beckon to the driver to move on. You can be arrested for evading military service, for having a similar name with a wanted man. Everything is possible.

 Hisham relates the story of what happened to his friend: He was on his way to his own wedding party when he was stopped by a checkpoint and summoned to military service. The friend had to pay a hefty amount of money to postpone it for a few days.

 This has made men thin on the ground. Women often joke that in the near future, they will not need to don a hijab, for there will be no men on the streets.

 ”Damascus is a testosterone-free city,” a pithy Facebook post reads.
 Everything smacks of war. Look at the people's weary faces.

 Ruba, an English literature student, tells Global Voices that she ironically recalled an article she read lately listing the most romantic cities in the world when she passed by a military vehicle in her densely populated neighborhood.

 ”Damascus used to be called city of Jasmine, which symbolizes purity, romance and love. Now look at the situation on the ground. Everything smacks of war. Look at the people's weary faces.”

 Fear extends to the use of social media. A pro-opposition activist based in Damascus who asked to be identified as Osama already goes by a fake name on Facebook to engage in solidarity campaigns with areas under government siege. He says fears of arrest are now more pronounced than ever.
 ”It was unthinkable when the revolution started seven years ago that today we will be fearful to express our thoughts on social media. Unfortunately it is happening.

 Osama anticipated a wave of arrests and score-settling by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad against opponents, emboldened by a military superiority on the ground.

 These accounts belie regime attempts to project an impression that life is back to normal following recent military wins, the latest of which was the recapture of al-Bukamal city in Deir Ezzor that sealed the fall of Isis in Syria. These attempts have included the holding the Damascus International Fair after a six-year hiatus, celebrating much-vaunted achievements of the Syrian football team which came close to qualifying for the World Cup, and the restoration of basic services, mainly electricity.

 However, these so-called pessimistic perspectives receive pushback from those who see a clear improvement in the situation, as the regime has managed to claw back significant swathes of territory from opponents.

 ”There is a predominant sense of relief in Damascus compared to previous years,” says Salem, a government employee. ”Some checkpoints have been removed. Electricity is back 24 hours a day, the prices of some basic commodities have gone down. I believe that this is very promising.”

 Others will find these wins too little and hollow.

 ”It is ridiculous to assume that war is over and the locals’ woes have come to an end just because some services are back and prices have slightly dropped. Rocket and mortar attacks continue on near daily basis. Just yesterday, there have been eight deaths,” Hisham says.
 Rocket and mortar shells continue to hit the city, with a recent spike in the death toll after a brief lull that followed the establishment of de-escalation zones in the Damascus countryside, shattering a temporary sense of relief that prevailed in the Syrian capital. This came on the heels of a government offensive in eastern Ghouta, a rebel enclave under government siege near Damascus.

 ”The thunder of artillery and rockets hitting Ghouta echoes all across the city. Buildings here are literally shaking,” says Samar, who lives in Bab Sharqi neighborhood. ”We have not heard these sounds in a while.”

 ”Incoming or outgoing?” People ask in jest when they hear a sudden boom, wondering whether it is a rebel rocket hitting Damascus or the sound from the army's artillery pounding opposition-held areas.

 Clearing this kind of ambiguity is part of what a Facebook page called Diaries of a Mortar Round in Damascus does.

 The page, originally set up to track rebel rocket attacks on Damascus city, occasionally tells people in Damascus not to worry because the source of the noise is the Syrian military's shelling of opposition areas. Many in the comments express relief and urge the Syrian army to do more to eradicate ”terrorism” and restore security to Damascus.

 But others criticize what they consider a chilling lack of sympathy for the tragedy unfolding in their close vicinity.

 ”Few mortar shells can disrupt life here. The sounds of artillery cause panic, especially among children. I find it impossible to imagine the horror visited on those on whose heads these rockets are falling,” says Manar, a teacher at an elementary school in old Damascus.

 Asked if the Damascenes feel more safe after seven years of war as the regime touts new military wins, she says ”fear in Damascus ebbs and flows, but is always there. Many years will pass before the Syrians can feel safe and secure again.” '

Monday, 27 November 2017

Dirty Deal

 'Map that shows the dirty deal between Assad regime and ISIS to transport ISIS fighters towards Idlib to fight the rebels and ultimately destabilize the free North region in Syria so the régime can recapture the North later.'

 "Rebels mobilized en masse to repel ISIS advance in Hama. The first phase has been very succesful, and the Baghdadis have been all repelled back to the Hama province borders."


"Report from NE. Hama fronts showing how ISIS shifted its focus westwards after Regime kicked off own assault in "de-escalation zone", backed by Russian Su-25s & advanced jets."

Sochi Assad: Syrians show their anger at Russian summit

Sochi Assad: Syrians show their anger at Russian summit

 'Syrian opposition activists have launched a social media campaign in opposition to talks about Syria’s future held in Sochi, Russia.

 The discussions so far have involved Russia and Iran, who support the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey, which has supported rebel groups but is increasingly close to Russia and fearful of the influence gained by Kurdish militias, including those backed by the US.

 The latest talks ended on Wednesday, but opened the way for a further, theoretically broader, conference, also in Sochi, which is expected to take place next week.

 Turkey, Russia and Iran released a joint statement after the talks, which called on the Syrian regime and mainstream opposition to join the planned conference “constructively”.

 The Hashtag Revolution campaign has urged people around the world to join its social media activism using the hashtag #SochiAssad, and is in solidarity with street protests against Sochi in Syria itself.

 “We, the Syrian people who joined the revolution against the Bashar al-Assad regime, believe that the Sochi conference is a distraction,” Ghossoun Abou Dahab, one of the campaign organisers, told the Lens Post.

 “We reject any negotiations outside the UN and will continue to insist that Assad must step down and face charges in the International Criminal Court because he is a war criminal.”

 Many activists feel that the voices of ordinary Syrians have been drowned out by talks between world leaders, especially those who they see as leading the violence against them. The campaign calls on all foreign entities to leave Syria, and insists on keeping the country united as one.

 “Surrounding countries are looking out for their own interests in Syria, and that is the reason Assad has remained in power until now,” said Ghossoun.

 “Russia is Assad’s partner in crime in Syria, so we do not trust it and it is not acceptable that it would be part of any negotiations to defend the Syrian people.”

 Ghossoun also had little faith in a rival conference held by opposition groups in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

 “In all honesty, we no longer have any trust in negotiations,” said Ghossoun. “We wish that the results of such negotiations will be better than its predecessors.

 “The best way for peace would be for a transitional government without Assad.”

 A string of protests has also taken place in Syria against the Sochi talks.

 Obeda Abo Omar, an activist in eastern Ghoutta, an area being devastated by regime attacks and siege, told the Lens Post, “All the towns of Ghoutta stood up against Sochi. Here in Ghoutta, these events have been taking place since the proposal of the Sochi conference.”

 Omar added that a large event was being planned for the near future, but that so far up to 50 people had attended each of the Syrian protests and vigils. He said they would have been bigger were it not for the constant “fear of targeting and shelling”.

 The six-year war in Syria, which started when the Assad regime brutally tried to crush the Arab Spring movement against him in 2011, has seen hundreds of thousands of people killed and has forced millions of people to flee the country, creating the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

 The Syrian regime saw signs of being defeated at the hands of the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups, but recovered after support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. This military onslaught, which has included the dropping of barrel bombs and chemical gas on opposition areas, turned the tide in the conflict, with Russian airpower reducing cities to rubble.

 The coalition of Syrian revolutionaries behind the #SochiAssad campaign released a statement online that also rejected the Sochi conference.

 “Russia has spilled the blood of our people due to the use of its veto power as well as its aircraft strikes that caused the destruction of infrastructure, especially hospitals, which is contrary to international norms,” said the statement. “We therefore categorically reject any political solution sponsored by an occupier.”

 It continued, “We also demand that the opposition forces, represented by the coalition and the High Commission, all who speak on our behalf, stick to our revolution and the aspirations of our people with freedom and dignity, and any negotiations should be under the umbrella of the United Nations and the Security Council in accordance with the decisions of Geneva and the rejection of any outside interference in the drafting of the Syrian constitution.”

 Journalist Salwa Amor used the #SochiAssad tag to post on Facebook, “Russia has senselessly bombed civilians in Syria for the sixth year straight, it seems surreal that it is now entrusted with deciding what is best for Syria and Syrians.”

 Twitter user Robert Robert also used the hashtag, tweeting, “Self-determination means that Syrians, not the Russian/Iran government, determines the fate of the people.”

 The activists, both in and out of Syria, are planning to build on their campaign.'