Source: Hezbollah training Shiite fighters in Syria

Beirut/London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Syrian Shiite sources confirmed to Asharq Al Awsat that Hezbollah and Iran are intervening in the Syrian crisis in order to “protect” Shiite towns, villages and religious shrines against the “Takfirists”. The sources revealed the presence of “Hezbollah training centers in the Beqaa valley to train up young Syrian Shiites, paying them salaries to fight in Syria”. Syrian opposition figures confirmed that there are roughly 1,500 Hezbollah elements in Syria, and the same number of Iranians assisting the Syrian regime, but said that the talk of 5,000 elements is an exaggeration.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis, and its transformation into a military struggle, there has been increasing talk of Hezbollah participating in the fight alongside the Syrian regime. There is a sense of a strategic interdependence between Hezbollah and the al-Assad regime, the latter of which is a vital artery that connects Iranian aid (of all kinds) to the movement in Lebanon. Despite the fact that Lebanese politicians talk about Hezbollah’s refusal to comply with the Syrian regime’s desire to ignite the Lebanese arena in order to relieve the pressure on al-Assad, these same politicians have criticized Hezbollah’s involvement in supporting the regime at the expense of the people. Meanwhile, there is hardly a statement from the leaders of the Free Syrian Army [FSA] that doesn’t reference Hezbollah’s support and organized participation in “the killing of the Syrian people”.

Retired General Nizar Abdel-Kader, a Lebanese strategic expert, believes that Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian conflict is no longer a secret. He pointed out that despite the information that was circulated months ago on this matter, doubts remained until Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah admitted his movement’s involvement, attributing it to the demographic and geographical overlap in the border areas between Lebanon and Syria in the north of Beqaa and Homs Governorate. Abdel-Kader told Asharq Al Awsat: “We cannot accept that Nasrallah’s reasoning is that simple, because, as we know, Hezbollah was supportive of all the other Arab revolutions but denies the validity of the Syrian revolution because of the movement’s association with the Syrian regime, which in turn supports it with arms and offers Syria’s strategic depth for its war with Israel”.

He went on to say: “I think that, in light of President al-Assad’s insistence on pursuing the military option, and hence doing everything he can to stay in power, it is natural that Hezbollah would become increasingly involved in the battle, on the side of its ally, and it is to be expected that its operations would eventually take on a public nature and it would undertake some missions to protect the regime in the Syrian capital”. Abdel-Kader fears that Hezbollah is undertaking some of its operations against Syrian dissidents located in Lebanon, describing what Hezbollah is doing today as “a dangerous card to play”, but adding that it was inevitable that it would be played in the end.

It is not easy to talk with Hezbollah officials on the subject of their party’s logistical intervention in the Syrian crisis. Hezbollah, which initially described such allegations as “laughable”, now strictly adheres to the official rhetoric issued by Nasrallah, who said that the Lebanese fighting in Syria live there and are simply defending their villages.

However “al-Hajj”, a Hezbollah official in Beqaa, said that the movement is also defending Lebanese territory, i.e. the “Lebanese part” of the Syrian border town al-Qusayr. “Al-Hajj”, who asked to be referred only by this name, said that a section of this town is located on Lebanese soil and is being subjected to attacks from the Syrian opposition. He added that Hezbollah “monitoring officials” were able to record a conversation between armed opposition members planning to attack the town and kill its residents, “so they ambushed them and inflicted great losses, whilst one of our men died defending the area”. He explained that the situation in that area has now turned into something resembling a fault line between the two sides.

The Syrian crisis is of great concern to Hezbollah, but “al-Hajj” confirmed that his party is relaxed about the future. He reasoned that if the regime emerges victorious the situation will return to how it was before, and if it falls this is a sign of the return of the Imam al-Mahdi [a sign of the world’s ending according to Islamic eschatology].

A Lebanese opposition official also confirmed that Hezbollah is interfering in the Syrian war, pointing out that information available to him indicates that the group is seeking to prevent the movement of opposition figures in both directions, through its monitoring of part of the Syrian-Lebanese border. This explains the decline in Syrian opposition activity in that region. He asserted that Hezbollah artillery and rocket launchers stationed on Lebanese territory are playing an active role in the battle, whilst Syrian opposition figures have spoken about bombardments coming from Lebanese territory, particularly the village of Zata (with its predominantly Shiite population) and al-Qusayr.

Meanwhile, military experts doubt the possibility of Hezbollah openly engaging in battle alongside the regime, but they do not hide their suspicions about the Lebanese movement offering “technical assistance”. They suggest that Hezbollah is participating behind the scenes, in the battle operation rooms, and its officials are moving in significant numbers across the border.

Syrian Shiites have also confirmed new information to Asharq Al Awsat regarding the presence of Hezbollah in Shiite-inhabited areas of Syria, in addition to the party’s clear contribution to the protection of the famous Sayyidah Zaynab shrine in the suburbs of Damascus. Furthermore, the Syrian opposition have recently distributed images of a car with a Lebanese number plate and a poster affixed to it; the poster depicts a young man above the following words: “died in defense of the Sayyidah Zaynab shrine”. The opposition claim this image was taken in the southern suburbs of the city of Beirut, an area under the influence of Hezbollah.

Fahad al-Masri, an FSA official spokesman, told Asharq Al Awsat that “approximately two weeks ago, Hezbollah sent dozens of its elements to Mount Qalamoun”. He also pointed out that Hezbollah operatives are being deployed mainly in Zabadani and Homs, and specifically in the Christian town of Dabla alongside the regime’s Shabiha forces. He indicated that the coming days will witness multiple battles between Hezbollah and the FSA in these areas.

Al-Masri considers the recent reports of 5,000 Hezbollah elements inside Syria to be an exaggeration, adding that Hezbollah presence in the capital Damascus is limited, confined to specific sites and locations such as guarding the Sayyidah Zaynab shrine.

Asharq Al Awsat also spoke to a Syrian Shiite named Ahmed. He said that his brother Abbas, a Syrian from the town of Nubl in Aleppo Governorate, had joined Hezbollah’s training center in Beqaa along with a number of the town’s residents, and those from other Shiite towns in the region, in order to learn how to defend their families. Ahmed revealed that young men are being transported to Damascus by car and then to Aleppo by plane, following which they are deployed – via military helicopter – to the towns they are supposed to defend.

Ahmed, who works in Beirut, defended what these people are doing, stressing that his brother “is like any other young person in that situation; they are forced to act because of the Takfirist groups’ attacks on Shiite towns and villages in Syria”. He added that these men are paid good salaries “to compensate for the disruption to their lives”, whilst also pointing out that Iranian experts are also contributing to this effort. Ahmed revealed that the Iranians are providing money and arms to support the Shiites who are “threatened by extremist groups”.

There is no accurate information on the number of Shiites in Syria, but a report drafted by the US State Department on “religious freedom” in 2010 indicated that the Shiites account for roughly 2.5 percent of the Syrian population, and they are composed of the Twelver, Zaidi and Ismaili sects. The Ismailis are concentrated in the Hama Governorate and the city of Salamiyah specifically, whilst the Twelver Shiites are located mainly in Idlib Province as well as some towns in Homs and Aleppo such as Zahra and Nubl, which boasts the largest community of Twelver Shiites in Syria, namely 30,000 people. There are also Shiites in Damascus in the districts of al-Amin, Jura and the old city, in addition to their presence in the vicinity of the Sayyidah Zaynab shrine.

For his part, a dissident officer told Asharq Al Awsat that there is confirmed information of Hezbollah elements and Iranian experts being present in Damascus and living there as experts in the field of media and security. They are visiting media institutions and the security apparatus frequently, travelling in SUVs and participating in the planning and implementation of military operations. The officer, who declined to be named, reported that when the Houla massacre was committed the regime waited a whole day before issuing a statement on the matter. Iranian experts present in the Syrian Ministry of Interior condemned this action and accused the then Information Minister, Adnan Mahmoud, arguing that he should have immediately stated that armed gangs were behind the massacre. This ultimately led to him being replaced by the current minister Imran Zoubi.

Colonel Arif Hamoud, Head of Syrian Martyrdom Operations in the FSA, confirmed that Hezbollah is actively participating on the battlefields in Syria. He told Asharq Al Awsat that: “Hezbollah leaders have been tasked with training elements of the regime and its officers, especially the special forces and military and air force intelligence. These Syrian forces are mainly concentrated in the region of al-Draij in Damascus Governorate, where they are being subjected to training exercises lasting 3 to 4 weeks” He added that this information has been confirmed by officers who have recently defected from the regime.

The officer pointed out that the FSA has recently captured some Hezbollah elements in order to exchange them with some of its members being detained by the Syrian regime. This happened when Hezbollah Commander “Abu Abbas” was killed along with 15 other elements two months ago. The officer confirmed that the FSA is holding another Hezbollah leader, after he was arrested in the vicinity of Sayyidah Zaynab, which has a strong Hezbollah presence.

Syria: The Confused

A Syrian carries a revolution flag during a Friday protest in Aleppo, Syria, where young people and children sang songs against Bashar Assad and the Syrian regime, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012.(AP Photo/Virginie Nguyen Hoang)
A Syrian carries a revolution flag during a Friday protest in Aleppo, Syria, where young people and children sang songs against Bashar Assad and the Syrian regime, Friday, Dec. 21, 2012.(AP Photo/Virginie Nguyen Hoang)

One of the questions that has certainly crossed the minds of many is how exactly the Syrian regime has managed to withstand, for nearly two years, the tide of peaceful and then armed opposition, despite losing control of over half the country and carrying out the most heinous acts of violence against the residents of Syrian cities and villages.

The answer was provided by a recent report in the New York Times newspaper, and it lies with the undecided, on in other words, the confused. It is clear that this category still constitutes a considerable portion of the Syrian population. They could be opposing the regime’s policies, but they also fear for their future, they could be opposing the regime’s repression and violence, but the opposition has failed to convince them to do so. This category includes professionals, army officers and civil servants who administer the affairs of the state, hence ensuring the continuity of the regime. At the same time, the confused are sitting on the fence and have failed to adopt a stance that could tilt the balance to one side.

The confused are a natural phenomenon in any society because the majority of people are distanced from politics and their prime concern is to support the daily lives of themselves and their families. They will attempt to adapt to even the most difficult conditions, unless their rage finally boils over and the idea of the regime remaining in power becomes unthinkable.

We would have expected this rage to have boiled over by now, had the Syrian popular uprising remained peaceful. During its early months, the revolution garnered popular mobility and sympathy in view of its demands for freedom and social justice, whilst the regime’s strategy – as has been made abundantly clear – was to counter the situation by means of blatant military and security force. As a result, the opposition or protestors had no option but to resort to arms in response to such excessive use of force, and this is what happened.

Weapons for weapons, blood for blood, this became the situation in Syria. It terrified many, especially in large cities where a considerable part of the people sought only to achieve reform, freedoms and better living standards. These people were well aware that the regime would not allow such developments, and that their chances of acquiring more rights would be zero as long as they were being governed in the same manner as in past decades, and ever since the Baath party rose to power. Yet despite this, these people were also not ready to risk their lives, and they were prepared to endure a degree of restraint and repression in return for a semblance of normality.

This is to be expected, as ordinary people are not “revolutionaries or adventurers by nature”, otherwise society would transform into a state of chaos. As for activists, they are merely a minority or elite grouping in society, and their success or failure is conditional upon their ability to convince the general public to follow them.

In fact, this is the dilemma facing the opposition in Syria. They need to win over the confused and frightened who are sitting the fence, watching but not taking a side.

Those people are right to harbor apprehensions towards armed resistance. Thus, the opposition, in their various guises, need to consider such fears as part of their strategy on the ground. They must act to eliminate these fears, whether they stem from sectarian or ideological motives, and they must also seek to preserve state institutions and prevent any reprisals.

Uprooting Al-Maliki: Mission Impossible

A handout picture released by the Iraqi prime minister's office shows Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki addressing an annual military conference in Baghdad on December 16, 2012. AFP PHOTO / HO / PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE
A handout picture released by the Iraqi prime minister’s office shows Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki addressing an annual military conference in Baghdad on December 16, 2012. AFP PHOTO / HO / PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE

When Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was asked about the demonstrations staged against him in Baghdad last year, he replied that it was Iraq that started the Arab Spring. This is reminiscent of Bashar al-Assad’s statement to the Wall Street Journal, a few weeks after the Syrian revolution erupted, in which he claimed he was not concerned about the protests because Syria represents the resistance front against Israel.

The Arab Spring did not start in Iraq nor is Syria a resistance front. Even if either of these two statements were right, this is not what matters. What matters is what the people there think.

Al-Maliki’s only concern is staying in power, but he is facing several challenges, one of which being that he is his second and final term in office. He tried to modify the constitution in order to engineer a third term but failed, and now he might not even last until the end of this term. This is why he is now trying to look for other solutions, such as dissolving the parliament before it votes against him, or holding early elections.

Today, Sunday, could be the beginning of the first battle. Al-Maliki, who failed to secure the majority vote in the 2010 elections, came to power as part of a coalition with the support of the Shiites and the Sunni Kurds. Those alliances have, however, changed and al-Maliki is now willing to ally with his enemies, whether Shiite Sadrists or the Sunni Arabs. Yet the latter are already engaged in demonstrations against him, especially following the accusations levelled against Finance Minister Rafea al-Eissawi, a prominent Sunni figure. In fact, al-Maliki has alienated almost every Sunni leader and is on the verge of a confrontation with the Kurds in the north, apparently due to Iran’s desire to forge a route into Syria in order to rescue al-Assad’s besieged regime. Al-Maliki’s main concern is to monopolize power, and so he has also marginalized Shiite leaders like Ibrahim al-Jaafari and the wise politician Adel Abdul Mahdi. He is getting ever closer to Iran and is willing to do anything in order to stay in power.

It is important to note that Maliki’s position is unrivalled by any president or king, possibly anywhere else in the world, for he has sole authority over all key ministries and entities including security, intelligence, the armed forces, finance, the central bank, the media, the judiciary, and the policy of “de-baathification.” Currently, he is trying to seize control of the anti-corruption bodies, and the list goes on.

When the deputy prime minister said in an interview with CNN that al-Maliki was a dictator, he was immediately dismissed. When al-Maliki fell out with Vice President Tarek al-Hashimi, he accused him of terrorism and conspiracy, and jailed his bodyguards.

It will be very hard to uproot Maliki from his position whether by constitutional means, i.e. through the parliament, or by demonstrations and civil disobedience. Iraqis are at the beginning of another rocky road that could return them back to square one; back to when Saddam Hussein was in power and the United States lost a trillion dollars and 4,000 of its soldiers in order to get rid of him and his legacy. Al-Maliki will be ousted, but only after he destroys Iraq in a manner similar to al-Assad in Syria.

Fake “Revolutionaries” Attacking Moaz Alkhatib

Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, talks to the press following his meeting with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi (not seen) in the League headquarters in Cairo on February 11, 2013. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI
Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, talks to the press following his meeting with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi (not seen) in the League headquarters in Cairo on February 11, 2013. AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI

The al-Assad regime in Syria has survived for 40 years, dominating the country and regional politics thanks to two things; secret security services that kill without hesitation according to a strategy of deterrence and subjection, and the creation of fake institutions under various populist slogans. This is how it all began when Hafez al-Assad carried out his coup under the Baathist slogan “One Arab Nation, Bearing an Eternal Message.” At the time, this slogan was viewed as being bright and patriotic; however in reality it was nothing more than propaganda for al-Assad to legitimize his coup, and later his reign, during which he killed his comrades and rivals alike. Following this, Hafez al-Assad invented other entities, this time under the name of “Arab nationalism”, for those who were opposed to the Baathist party. When he discovered that Iran’s Khomeinist regime was rallying popularity under the banner of Islam, al-Assad created extremist Islamist entities with the help of Tehran, establishing the first Shiite entity in southern Lebanon, as well as a Sunni entity in northern Lebanon, linking both groups to Iran. As for the Sunni leadership in Lebanon, this included late Sheikh Saeed Shaaban. There can also be no doubt that Hafez al-Assad most traded on the Palestinian blood and Cause, followed by Iran, jeopardizing the region’s people and imposing his hegemony under the pretext of liberating Palestine. However in reality, it was these two parties who most traded with the Palestinian people’s rights, utilizing them to dominate Lebanon and the Palestinian forces, and then strike at the Arab regimes that opposed them whilst never actually threatening Israel.

Those who were shocked today by the acts of Ahmed Jibril and the “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command” [PFLP-GC] for openly participating in the killing of the Syrian people as well as Palestinian refugees in support of al-Assad have failed to understand what we have been saying for years regarding our doubts and rejection of these groups that have been linked to Iran and Syria, and prior to this, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, including the “Abu Nidal Organization”. Those who refuse to believe what we are saying today about other similar groups will tomorrow discover something that will not please them at all, because there can be no doubt that all the entities that have worked with the Syrian and Iranian regimes have stained their hands with the Syria people’s blood. It is difficult for people like me to believe that such groups are independent whilst at the same time working with al-Assad’s security apparatus. This is what we have been saying about Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah, namely that when he raised the slogans of Palestine and Lebanon, he was actually nothing more than an Iranian-Syrian battalion, and if Israel wanted to eradicate him, it would not have failed. The Palestinian, Turkish, Iraqi and Gulf organizations that previously developed in Damascus were employed under the same Syrian hegemony and leadership, but when some of them saw al-Assad’s predicament they ran away just like rats fleeing a sinking ship.

But what does all of the above have to do with this article’s title and Moaz Alkhatib, the President of the National Coalition for Opposition Forces and the Syrian Revolution, i.e. the man primarily responsible for the Syrian uprising today?

When he took over the leadership of this coalition, we saw many figures and groups issue statements opposing him. These statements were directed towards the West claiming that Alkhatib is a Muslim radical who has secret links to Al Qaeda, whilst contradictory statements were also issued by Islamist, national and revolutionary groups, attacking him and claiming that he is an agent of Israel and the US. In reality all of these statements can be traced back to a single source; the Syrian regime. The al-Assad regime has mastered the art of propaganda and fabrication. This is similar to what the Syrian regime previous did in Iraq namely issuing statements on behalf of Al Qaeda and the various national Iraqi forces, whilst at the same time working with Iran to secure Nouri al-Maliki’s appointment as prime minister despite Iyad Allawi’s election majority; this is a documented story that has only been revealed lately. For years, al-Assad misled a superpower – the United States – claiming he was against radical Islamic groups and Al Qaeda. The Americans were taken in by this to the point that they shared their intelligence with him and sent Al Qaeda suspects for interrogation to his security services. At the same time as this, Syrian intelligence officers, wearing false beards, claimed to be jihadist leaders secretly working in Syria, receiving Arab, Gulf and Libyans recruits and training them to kill and carry out terrorist operations that were unprecedented in the history of our region.

The Al-Assad regime has long experience in “reincarnating” groups, something that began in Lebanon. Back in the eighties, the regime used to train Lebanese groups to abduct Arab and foreign diplomats, and carry out suicide operations under Shiite, national and Palestinian banners. Through these violence workshops, al-Assad was able to control Lebanon for three decades, then al-Assad the son tried to imitate his father. He he ordered the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 20 other Lebanese figures in order to intimidate his opponents and take control of the entire country however this plan ultimately back-fired. Militarily, Hariri was the weakest of the Lebanese leader, because he had no militia; nevertheless his assassination represented the beginning of the end, and the fire that was ignited by al-Assad in Lebanon spread into Syria, as we are witnessing today.

As for those who are engaged in the Syrian revolution and its millions of sympathizers, we should stress that you must not judge a book by its cover. There are jihadist and national groups that have been fabricated or infiltrated and their major objective is to dismantle the revolution’s gains and turn the rebels’ weapons against each other so that the Syrian people will be preoccupied by discord and sedition for long years to come and the Syrian people will wish to return to the al-Assad era.

We have to realize, based on this huge amount of evidence, that al-Assad is not stupid, as some like to portray him, and that he has been well aware – for more than a year – this his regime will collapse but has refused to step down before he has completely destroyed Syria and its tolerant and reconciliatory society. He has refused to step down before ensuring that the Syrian people inherit a civil war based on religion, identity, history and conflicting interests. Therefore those who accuse Alkhatib of being an agent are nothing but fake revolutionaries employed by al-Assad to crush his opponents.

Syrian defector reveals how Assad regime “fabricates” news

Syrian defector reveals how al-Assad regime “fabricates” news
Syrian defector reveals how al-Assad regime “fabricates” news

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – A Syrian regime media defector, who previously worked at the pro-Assad Addounia TV, informed Asharq Al-Awsat how the Assad regime fabricates news, misleads the public and distorts the reputation of the Syrian revolution on Syrian state television. The Syrian source, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, also leaked several clips taken from the archive of pro-Assad media that reveals just precisely how the Damascus regime is running its propaganda operations.

Al-Arabiya published a video, leaked by the same media defector, which shows a young Syrian woman – her features blurred to protect her identity – relating the story of how she was kidnapped by Syrian rebels in the city of Harasta in Rif Dimashq governorate. Following this, we see a clip of one of the young men confessing to his part in this kidnapping; the only problem is that the story is a complete sham. In fact, the compete video clip shows the young Syrian woman – her features uncovered – relating the same story, only this time smiling and stumbling over her lines.

The Syrian defector informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “the scene will have been pre-prepared at one of the security branches. Following this, Syrian state media correspondents will go to record confessions with the speaker being prompted in what he must say to harm the Syrian revolution and revolutionary forces.”

He added “the large number of security branches and their lack of coordination means that sometimes blatant contradictions appear on television such as with regards to the killing of Sarriya Hassoun, the son of Syrian Grand Mufti Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun. Syrian state television broadcast the confession of two separate terrorist cells – telling two different stories – regarding Sarriya Hassoun’s death. Of course, both stories highlighted the aspects that the Syrian regime wanted highlighting.”

The Syrian source revealed that he originally comes from one of Syria’s northern provinces and that he previously worked as a news editor at Addounia TV in 2011 before the start of the revolution. He later left this job for a different one, preparing to defect from the regime and join the Syrian revolution.

The Syrian media defector asserted that Syria security apparatus interfere and put pressure on Syrian media and Syrian media staff, adding that this had happened at Addounia TV during his time there. However he denied that any single security or intelligence authority was responsible for overseeing this, informing Asharq Al-Awsat that “all of the security branches interfered in the media’s operations, as is the case with all government institutions in Syria.”

He added ‘within the corridors of Addounia TV, no employee or media figure would dare to express any opinion against regime policy for fear of the Syrian security forces and its agents and informers who are everywhere inside every Syrian media organization.”

The source also revealed that “some employees were arrested after their support for the revolution was exposed, whilst some other detainees were freed and they fled the country for Egypt and Dubai” adding “there are others who were arrested and whose fates remain unknown until now.”

The Syrian media defector remains within Syria, where he receives information from some of his former colleagues which allow him to expose the shocking practices of Syrian state media. He refused to reveal who is responsible for this for fear of putting them – and their families – in danger, also refusing to reveal when such files were leaked to him to further confuse their source of origin.

The media defector told Asharq Al-Awsat that Syrian state and pro-Assad media are now doing everything in their power to promote the regime’s line regarding a “foreign conspiracy” against Syria, as well as the presence of “armed gangs” committing atrocities on the ground. He said “there are some people on social media who are actively helping the state-sponsored media to fabricate and promote such news, particularly the pro-Assad Shaam news outlet, as well as the so-called Syrian Electronic Army which is funded by Mujahid Ismail, the leader of the Shabiha in Syria.”

The source added “as for the biggest pro-Assad newspaper, this is funded by businessman Majd Suleiman, son of well-known Intelligence chief and current Syrian ambassador to Jordan, Bahjat Suleiman.”

CNN previously interviewed former Syrian presidential palace press officer, Abdullah al-Omar, who lately defected from the Assad regime and revealed its questionable practices. He said “our job was to fabricate, make deceptions and cover up for Bashar Assad’s crimes.”

He also revealed that during the regime’s bombardment of the rebel-held Baba Amr neighborhood in the city of Homs, al-Assad regime loyalist women were brought in and disguised as locals for government television. He said “the women would say that the massacres against men, women and children were perpetrated by armed gangs, when it was actually the Syrian regime, security forces and the Shabiha who were behind these horrendous acts.”

The Departure of the Non-Revolutionary Intellectual

During the Pahlavi era when the streets of Tehran were punctuated by daily demonstrations and shops closed down due to strikes, the Shah became increasingly confused about what was happening. None of his advisers could alleviate his anxiety and bewilderment, and the reports of his security services failed to reduce the confusion he was being plagued by. Then the Shahbanu (emperor), Farah Pahlavi, suggested that her husband consult a professor in social sciences whom she had known for some time; a man named Ehsan Naraghi. The Shah asked his personal secretary to provide him with a report about this university professor, and after studying the SAVAK intelligence report he found that Naraghi had been arrested several times for criticizing the regime. In fact he had long launched accusations against it, once as a communist and another time as a sympathizer with the Islamists, and even though Naraghi was a prestigious professor of sociology who worked in academic and international organizations such as UNESCO, the Shah was not reassured. Despite all this, the confused Shah, perhaps out of frustration, eventually met with this academic who had been critical of but necessarily opposed his policies, in order to listen to his advice. They met a total of eight times and many years later, out of respect for his relationship with the Shahbanu, Naraghi published the details under the title: From Palace to Prison: Inside the Iranian Revolution (1994).

Two weeks ago, Professor Ehsan Naraghi passed away in Tehran amidst a government and cultural silence. A request to bury him in the section of Behesht-e Zahra cemetery devoted to senior figures was rejected, after the chairman of Tehran city council refused to issue a permit. It is true that Naraghi withdrew from the cultural scene over the past two decades, but his presence can still be felt not only through his significant works but also as an example intellectual integrity.

Anyone watching the Arab uprisings that have swept the region since 2011 would realize that the events caught the political regimes off guard, and shook a number of politically stable countries to varying degrees. There is no doubt that some have realized too late that the frenzy on the street in more than one Arab country has begun to recede slightly, and the hasty hopes that took off on what has been called the “Arab Spring” have faded quickly under the light of reality, after the dust settled. In Tunisia stones have been thrown at the elected president in memory of Mohammed Bouazizi, whose death triggered—as we are meant to believe—a series of popular uprisings. Tunisia is suffering economically in light of weak governance and the escalation of political differences between the opponents of yesterday. As for Egypt there is a case of sharp political division and violent clashes in the streets. Some estimates suggest that the amount of those wounded during the first six months of the first ever elected president exceed those who fell during the weeks leading up to the departure of the Mubarak regime.

I am not writing here to criticize the “revolutions”, this is another matter. However, it is unfortunate that with regards to these events mentioned here and others, a number of intellectuals in the Arab world and the West bear responsibility whether directly or indirectly. There are the intellectuals who blessed and enthused what had happened, and then returned to criticize it later without acknowledging the initial mistake in their interpretation. Perhaps this is something natural in the human psyche, but there are also intellectuals who sought—and even contributed practically—to nourish the revolutionary climate. They volunteered their support for the leaders and parties who today they claim are working against the constitution and national unity. Those who later discovered the gravity of what they did are excused, but the intellectuals who are still betting on the political conflict being resolved through the force of the street are still participating in the incitement of violence and chaos.

Returning to Naraghi, intellectuals in the Middle East desperately need to become acquainted with the idea of an intellectual who is not a revolutionary but at the same time does not lose hope of reform even as he sees the regime falling apart. Unfortunately, some Arab intellectuals before the uprisings were looking to enact reform and commercial openness, and stressed the need to work from the inside to correct the imbalance in religious, social and political infrastructure, but after the “Arab Spring” they simply transformed into preachers of the revolution. Naraghi believed that the concept of cultural compliance that had infiltrated the region was highly damaging because it was the foundation of political and ideological partisanship, at the expense of the scientific method based on neutrality and complete independence from the influence of power and authority, whatever the source. Thus he directed significant criticisms towards revolutionary intellectual personalities such as Ali Shariati. Naraghi revealed that the burning thirst of this revolutionary, ideological generation of personalities such as Shariati had led to the magnification and fabrication of ridiculous tales. For example, Shariati did not meet with Jean-Paul Sartre or Louis Massignon, and he did not teach some of the sociologists he claimed to have.

Naraghi was a realist intellectual; he believed in the objective requirements for change, the nature of the relationship that governs political forces and the partisan trends that drive them. He was clever to differentiate between slogans intended to mislead—or exploit—in a political manner and those that actually expressed the genuine demands of a group of people. In his books and few speeches Naraghi criticized ideological intolerance. He believed that revolutions eliminated the possibility of dialogue between social components, and he advocated the need to connect with the ruling authority in order to achieve reform and bridge the gap between popular demands and governance. Naraghi embodied this approach in the days when he would provide advice to the Shah in the darkest of circumstances, and then after the 1979 revolution when he refused to insult the Shah or spread rumors about him despite pressure from the revolutionaries. For that he was jailed for three years before being released, with unfair rulings issued against him to punish him as a “remnant” of the former regime. Despite this, Naraghi did not transform into an enemy of the ruling regime in the new Islamic Republic, instead he continued to offer criticism and encouragement to reform, pointing out that the solution lied in convincing the mullahs that their model of governance was not valid, and that they ought to accept gradual reforms until Iran emerged from its revolutionary crisis.

Unfortunately, in the Arab region the word “reform” has become somewhat suspicious after being tarnished by regimes such as Gaddafi’s in Libya, or al-Assad’s in Syria. Who says that corruption and exploitation to address “reform” justifies the revolutionary model of governance in Egypt or Tunisia, and who says that an intellectual must abandon the scientific method to become a revolutionary?

In his book Naraghi recounts what the Shah told him during one of their conversations: “So people think that if Khomeini comes to power, they will be any better off? What economic program is Khomeini going to carry out to improve their lives? I’m certain they will lose even what little they have…I really fail to understand these people. It is as if they have completely taken leave of their senses”.

In truth, it is possible for the enraged street to lose its mind for some time, and it may be a while before the peaceful citizen returns to a minimum degree of logical thought. Yet it is regrettable that some intellectuals lose their minds under the spell of the revolution without even realizing it.

Syrian Arab Republic

[map id=”countryBriefMapIn” w=”676″ h=”350″ z=”6″ maptype=”TERRAIN” address=”Damascus, Syria” marker=”yes”]

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Timeline

• 1920: A kingdom is briefly established under King Faisal I until France takes over the country.
• 1925: Sultan Al-Atrash leads a revolt against the French that lasts until 1927.
• 1930: The Republic of Syria is established.
• 1936: The French and Syrians sign a peace treaty to give independence to Syria. The French Parliament does not ratify the treaty.
• 1941: Vichy France is forced to relinquish control of Syria by British and Free French troops.
• 1946: Syria gains its independence.
• 1948: Syria fights against Israel in the Arab–Israeli war.
• 1956: Martial law is declared in Syria as a result of the Suez crisis.
• 1958: Syria merges with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic.
• 1961: Syria secedes from the union with Egypt.
• 1963: The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party takes over the country in a coup.
• 1967: Syria fights Israel in the Six-Day War, losing the Golan Heights to Israel.
• 1970: Syrian forces sent to Jordan to support the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the Black September hostilities are withdrawn and Hafez Al-Assad takes over power in the Corrective Movement.
• 1973: Syria fights Israel in the October War.
• 1976: The Muslim Brotherhood launch an uprising against the government and Syria begins its occupation of Lebanon.
• 1982: The Islamic uprising ends with the Hama Massacre.
• 1990–1991: Syria participates with the US in the Gulf War against Iraq.
• 2000: Hafez Al-Assad dies and is succeeded as president by his son, Bashar.
• 2003: Israel bombs a site near Damascus, claiming it is used by Islamic Jihadists.
• 2005: Syria withdraws from Lebanon.
• 2007: Israeli fighter jets bomb what they claim to be a nuclear reactor under construction.
• March 2011: Peaceful protests as part of the Arab Spring are harshly suppressed by the army.
• July 2011: The Free Syrian Army is formed to fight the Assad government militarily.
• August 2011: The Syrian National Coalition is formed in opposition to the regime of Bashar Al-Assad and seeks to be recognized internationally as a government in exile.
• January 2012: Assad begins large-scale shelling against insurgents, causing extensive damage to civilians and their property.
• July 2012: The International Committee of the Red Cross declares the conflict a civil war as fighting spreads to most of the country.
• September 2012: The Free Syrian Army moves its command headquarters from southern Turkey into rebel-held areas of northern Syria.
• March 2012: Syrian government forces attack rebel positions in Lebanon for the first time.
• March 2012: A now-infamous video released on YouTube shows a rebel commander known as Abu Saqqar eating the internal organs of a government soldier.
• April–May 2012: The Assad regime and the rebels briefly enter a ceasefire negotiated by UN envoy Kofi Annan.
• May 2013: Lebanese militant group Hezbollah admits that its soldiers are fighting alongside Assad’s forces in Syria.
• July 2013: Fighting breaks out between Kurds and Islamists in northern Syria, a part of the civil war but not directly related to the fight against Bashar Al-Assad’s government.
• July 2013: UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon announces that more than 100,000 people have died in the conflict.
• August 2013: The UN announces that 1 million children have been made refugees by the conflict, with 2 million more displaced internally.
• August–September 2013: An alleged attack on civilians with a neurotoxic agent occurs in a Damascus suburb. A UN team investigates the allegations as the US and its allies declare the regime of Bashar Al-Assad responsible and plan a military strike in response.

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Syria



syria

Official Name: Syrian Arab Republic
Capital: Damasucs
President: Bashar Al-Assad
Prime Minister: Wael Nader Al-Halqi

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The Trinity of the Group, the Party and the State

The Egyptian opposition demonstrations passed without major incidents so far. President Mursi—and the Muslim Brotherhood behind him—continues to refuse to withdraw the decrees that have granted him unrestricted constitutional powers. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood and their Salafi allies have warned that they will not sacrifice all they have achieved in terms of political gains, in light of limited international criticism of the Brotherhood’s moves. This power grab scenario could in fact be a way of testing the equation “Egypt in exchange for peace”, as more than one observer has pointed out, in reference to the praise that Mursi received from the US President Barack Obama and Israeli officials for his role in the ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

However, what President Mursi did was nothing new. Every Egyptian President since 1952 has sought to assume more power, and to open the way for their organization or party to seize the state apparatus.

In order to understand what is really happening, it is best to return to recent history. In an interview conducted by the late President Anwar Sadat with the journalist Ali Amin, he emphasized the need to distinguish between the “Arab Socialist Union” (ASU) and official state organs to eliminate any duplication in governance. Here Sadat drew attention to the fact that the ASU was suffering from a tendency to seize the decision-making apparatus in the country (Al-Ahram newspaper, 12 April 1974).

The ASU was effectively the ruling party, despite parties being outlawed during the Naserrite era, and it played the role of a secret organization, a political party, and a state at the same time. There was, without doubt, a contradiction between the concept of the state—concerned with national interests—and the Arab nationalist organization and party, which saw the state as a mere tool to be used in the wider and more comprehensive regional project. In truth, Sadat was planning to eliminate the ASU, because he saw in it a revolutionary political legacy that was incompatible with his political project. He also saw its leading figures as rivals and saboteurs, capable of thwarting his attempts to take Egypt out of its military and economic crisis, and especially his plan to sever ties with the Soviet Union.

The performance of the Egyptian army in the October War gave President Sadat popularity on the street, and an opportunity to issue the call to remedy the ASU’s under the pretext of developing it, and soon he began the battle to dissolve the union completely in 1978. In this endeavor Sadat relied on his international success and American and European support for his policies, especially his project for peace with Israel. However, the crisis mushroomed and with it the arrest list began to expand, including many opponents of the regime from the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian left. Western newspapers criticized the president’s stances and his “dictatorial” decisions, but Sadat argued that his decisions and powers were temporary and necessary to cleanse the state’s institutions of the old guard of the former regime.

Of course, Sadat ended up being assassinated, and shortly after his death the Brotherhood, the left and even the Nasserites cheered the arrival of President Mubarak, who they saw as a savior from the past. Mubarak released prisoners, a move welcomed by his opponents, but it was not long before he enacted emergency laws and issued presidential decrees. Mubarak defended his decrees by claiming they were temporary and necessary to restore stability to Egypt. Don’t these chapters in Egypt’s history bring to mind what is happening in Tahrir Square over the last few days? Here the Brotherhood are trying to eliminate their former partners in the “revolution”, and are removing independent and opposition figures from state organs, such as the judiciary and the security apparatus, calling for these institutions to be cleansed of “remnants”. It is surprising that the Brotherhood has adopted this path so quickly, for less than six months after Mursi’s election the new president has been able to gain control of the army establishment and the judiciary, and has pursued opponents abroad, like Ahmed Shafik and Murad Muwafi.

In my opinion the problem is not confined to the president seizing power with a constitutional declaration on a temporary basis—as he says—but rather because the president, with the support of the Brotherhood, is determined to merge the state organs on the one hand, and the Freedom and Justice Party and the wider Brotherhood organization, represented by the General Guide and members of the Guidance Bureau, on the other. In other words, he is seeking to create a one-party state.

The Baathists in Syria used to say they were not the state; rather they were a pan-Arab organization representing the Arabs as a whole, not Syria alone. However, the truth is that they abolished the state in favor of their organization. There is no doubt that the Brotherhood in Egypt, and those who sympathize with it abroad, feel severely restricted and defensive, and therefore all their responses and comments accuse their opponents of hostility towards Islam. However, nothing can hide the reality that the Brotherhood aims to shape the constitution to their design, to exclude their opponents from power, and to fill the vacant seats with loyalists.

There are those who say that Mursi’s decisions may bring about the birth of a united opposition, and this is true, but we must remember that oppositions of this kind are slow to form, but quick to disintegrate and divide. President Mursi is facing a major challenge to prove the good intentions of his government and its independence from the Brotherhood, and this will only be achieved if he retracts his decrees, or if the Brotherhood transforms completely into a political party that can be held to account for its policies. In other words, the concept of the civil state must prevail or the Brotherhood will attempt to swallow the state, which it is incapable of digesting.