Tuesday, January 24, 2012


One year of massacres in Syria: Removing Assad is the only option.
Updated 15 March 2012

This paper has nine sections:

_ Myth and reality
_ Asma Assad
_ The failed Baath economy

_ Abusing Syria and Syrians
_ Crimes in Lebanon
_ Crimes against the Palestinian Cause
_ The Syrian Intifada
_ Intifada humor
_ The end

A short version of this paper was published on 20 January 2012 in the website of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). Download  HERE.

Another short version was published in German in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (F.A.Z.) on 12 February 2012: "Syriens Praesident Assad vor dem Ende - Präsident Baschar al Assad zeigt durch seine Gewaltpolitik, dass nur sein Sturz zur Stabilität im Land und in der Region führen kann. Das Ende des Baath-Regimes ist unvermeidlich". Download HERE.

Myth and Reality

Months before the first anniversary of the Syrian intifada, a Swiss journalist called me to discuss developments in Syria. He asked: “The Syrian regime has been a source of stability in the Middle East. Its downfall could lead to Moslem fundamentalists taking over. Are you worried about what will happen if the Baath regime collapses?”

My answer was polite but frosty: “The Syrian Baath regime has been anything but a source of stability. It was, it still is and, as long it is not toppled, it will remain a major source of instability in the region and beyond. The consequences of 40 years of the Baath party in power are wars and misery for Syrians, Palestinians, Lebanese and many other Arabs”.
2011 The people wants to live - 2012 Syria is free

“Dictators Hafez Assad, until his death in June 2000, and his son Bashar since then have been propagating nothing but hollow slogans of pan-Arabism, of socialism and of a liberated Palestine. Nothing more than hypocrisy. In reality the Assad clan has one goal only: securing the regime at any costs. At any costs."

"It used Palestinian groups like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), as-Saiqa and Islamic Jihad, and it used Lebanese parties and militias like Amal, Hezbollah and Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement to divide, to rule and to secure the Baath regime. The cynicism and the brutality of the Assad dictators are only topped by the Iraqi Baath regime of Saddam Hussein, and we know the end of that dictator, his family and cronies.”

I was getting more and more upset…

The journalist interrupted me: “Hey, I just wanted to provoke a reaction!” I calmed down, my tone became friendlier and the interview went on.

Having to explain why the Syrian Baath regime is an incarnation of evil just brings back too many memories of misery and horror for peoples in the Middle East. The history of Hafez Assad’s rule and that of his son, Bashar, is a line dotted with assassinations, wars, brutal repression, corruption. So much blood and tears over so many decades. The rationale of the Assad clan and the essence of the regime are cynical opportunism, violence and deceit.

Some Arab journalists, academics, Nasserists (yes, Gamal Abdel Nasser was a bloody dictator, too), Baathists (yes, there are still a few outside Syria) and hard-core leftists who still believe communism-inspired ideologies are democratic have been propagating since June 2000 that Assad the son is a “young reformer”. They often claim he who could not impose all his “reformist policies” on the so-called old-guard and some of his family members. And they highlight the "economic achievements" and "first steps to fight corruption".

More than eleven years of Bashar Assad in power – and this is what counts when assessing a politician’s work – show a rather depressing picture. A rational evaluation of his achievements and a comparison of his promises with his acts lead to a clear assessment: The son of dictator Hafez Assad has been unconditionally holding the reigns of power since day one in the presidential palace, and he is fully responsible for all failures that led to the people rising up against his dictatorial regime.

Let us recall what Bashar Assad has publicly said in several speeches and interviews since the Intifada against his regime started in March 2011: He blames "gangs" and "foreigner hands" for the trouble. "Plotters" are everywhere. He promised reforms. He promised a dialogue with opponents. And he promised to end the state of emergency law. Nothing changed. The only form of dialogue he pursued was one with guns and tanks.

As we say in Arabic, فهو جعل الفيلة تطير، وليس أكثر (he is only making elephants fly).

Meanwhile, the killing has been escalating in scale and horror. The list is so long; here some highlights:

_ The regime has been arming many among the Alawi minority (the Assads are Alawis), and was trying hard to provoke a strife between the Sunni majority and the minorities (Alawis, Christians, Druze). But it failed.

_ In mid-August 2011, Syrian navy ships participated for the first time in shelling civilian areas, in this case in Latakia.

_ Security forces have been bombarding residential areas in Hama, Homs, Idlib and elsewhere.

_ Shortly before Christmas 2011 two bombs exploded in Damascus just before Arab league observers came to Syria. The regime the same day put the blame on the Sunni fundamentalist al-Qaeda organization. On January 6, 2012 another bombing killed many in Damascus. The regime was again very quick in pointing the finger at al-Qaeda. I never knew that the Baath regime was so professional in being able to pinpoint killers in a few hours. The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) blamed the regime. I believe the SNC because the Baath regime is machiavellic enough and a master in car bombings it had excelled in carrying out in Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s. More on this here.

_ In February 2012, troops systematically bombarded areas in Homs, killing hundreds of people. The area of Baba Amr was almost completely destroyed. Check this satellite image of baba Amr which was published by Human Rights Watch end Feb 2012:

Red Dots are destroyed or damaged buildings, yellow dots are craters in fields or roads (pic taken on 25 Feb 2012, Baba Amr was retaken by Assad`s troops on March 1)

_ By early March 2012, more than8,400 people were killed, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Among the victims were 5,542 civilians, 1,692 soldiers and security personel and about 400 army deserters.

"The Assad system - to kill more" - Syria, 2011

A Syrian human rights activist, whose name I like to keep confidential for the time being, told me in 2009: “Under Hafez Assad we knew exactly the red lines. We knew this was acceptable, this would cause a warning phone call, this would lead to serious threats, this would make them jail me and this would probably kill me. With Bashar there are no clear red lines and no logical margins for political work. Some would end up in jail for just voicing an opinion; others would be left in peace. Any activity could lead to every possible repression. We live in constant fear in a republic of fear called Syria.”

The Mr-Nice-Guy-Reformer masque of Bashar Assad fell in March 2011 when Syrian troops were ordered to crush peaceful protests in the birthplace of the Intifada, the town of Deraa. His ruthless and cynical character became visible to all – after citizen journalists uploaded the bloody first images from the besieged town. No more illusions and no more propaganda could ever delete the thousands of films on YouTube and photos on Facebook showing the brutality of soldiers and “shabiha” (ghosts) militia Assad controls.

Meanwhile, normal people armed with mobile phones, cameras and laptops are risking their lives and producing the stream of images and news from inside Syria. With these weapons of massive raw information they bare witness, unmask Assad and the Baath, mobilize and keep the spirits high. The official propaganda machine has no chance against them.

The role of citizen journalists has been crucial because no independent Syrian or international journalist is allowed to report freely from the country. Some of the correspondents accredited in Damascus were expelled. Others were detained and even tortured. In one case, Algerian journalist Khaled Sid-Mohand who works for Le Monde and Radio France, spent weeks in jail and experienced hell.

Asma Assad: co-dictator or a prisoner of the regime?

When observing the public activities of Asma Assad, the presidet's wife, one has in principle no more illusions about the charming face of the Syrian dictatorship. The US magazine Vogue published a public relations report about her in February 2011 - shortly before the Syrian intifada started (14th March 2011), while a revolution had just begun in Libya (17th February 2011), shortly after Tunisian Dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled (14th January 2011).

Mind this quote of Asma Assad: "The (Assad) household is run on wildly democratic principles... We all vote on what we want, and where". The article provoked many critical reactions in the US; Vogue later removed the article from its website. The document is of historic importance; you can can download from my website here.

Later in September 2011, aid workers confronted her with the reality on the ground. One of them recalled: "We told her about the security forces attacking demonstrators. About them taking wounded people from cars and preventing people from getting to hospital ... There was no reaction. She didn't react at all. It was just like I was telling a normal story, something that happens every day." In a statement published in the Times newspaper in London in February 2012, she fully backed her husband.

I had a strange feeling when this statement was published. That was the moment where I said, hold on, something is wrong here, we may need to re-assess her role during the revolution, she may be a prisoner of the Assad clan and we do not know it yet. Why a statement? Why not give an interview to a journalist, then we can assess if she is really behind her husband or not. Tone and body language cannot lie. But since the revolution she did not speak once publicly. You could only see her smiling with Bashar Assad, either in Omeyade Square or when voting with him on the new constitution in February 2012. She never spoke, she always smiled. A fake smile?

Note that Asma Assad is a Sunni from Homs, and she may be a prisoner in a golden cage to keep the illusion of unity at the top of the Baath regime. In the meantime she has been described as a Syrian "Marie Antoinette", in an allusion to the wife of French King Louis XIV (both were beheaded by the French revolutionaries in 1793). A mock Asma video was published with pictures from Homs mixed with an interview she gave to CNN in 2009 about the Israeli killing fields in the Palestinian Gaza Strip. Exposes the hypocrisy of the Baath.

On March 4, 2012, the British newspaper express.co.uk reported that Asma's father said he is “horrified” by his son-in-law’s brutal repression policies. Mr. Fawaz Akhras, who lives in London, said he is fearful for the safety of his daughter. The newspaper added: "There are rumours that she is being kept under virtual house arrest in Damascus by the president’s henchmen who fear she might attempt to leave the country – a move that would severely damage the regime". Mr. Akhras allegedly told friends in the British Syrian Society he is now in an “impossible position”.

When Asma married Bashar in 2000 she was 24. As a British-born who was educated in elite schools she knew what kind of regime Bashar inherited, and she may have believed his promises for change. However, by February 2012 she must have known how repressive the Baath regime is and how much misery and pain her husband had been causing to his own people, to the Lebanese and the Palestinians. That did not seem to have bothered her, as we can read in the interview she gave for Vogue magazine sometime end of 2011. Meanwhile, a year after the start of the intifada, Asma is definitely in trouble and must fear for her life and the lives of her children. She must realize that the game is over.

In earlier version of this paper I asked whether Asma Assad was fully behind her husband, or a prisoner? It now looks as if she is fully behind him. The Guardian newspaper published on March 15 emails exchanged between the dictator and his wife, in one of them she writes in December 2011, "If we are strong together, we will overcome this together … I love you…". In addition, the emails show in what kind of cocoon the couple is living. Asma shops online for luxury goods and Bashar downloads iTune songs while their troops bombard Homs and other areas of Syria.

The following chapters deal with the main issues and stages of a tragedy for Syria and its neighbors.

The Baath economy: Pseudo socialism + corruption + nepotism = ruined economy

Historic Baath Leaders like Michel Aflaq and Salah el-Dine al-Bitar may have had some ideals in the 1940s. The Baath ideology mixed Arab nationalism and socialism; its motto was "Unity, Liberty and Socialism". But the foundations of a dictatorship were laid when the Baath took over power in a military coup in Syria in 1963.

Beside crushing freedoms and failing to achieve Arab unity the Baath socialist system ruined the economy of Syria, impoverished its people and sent the brightest into exile. The education system is in tatters. Economic overtures – China style, state-sponsored capitalism under the repression hood – led to a corrupt system enriching Bashar Assad, family members like his cousin Rami Makhlouf and cronies.

When the Intifada started in Deraa in March 2011 buildings were torched there, including the headquarters of both the ruling Baath party and the Syriatel mobile network owned by Rami Makhlouf, whose illegal wealth stirs much resentment. People in the battered streets of Deraa chanted, “We’ll say it clearly, Rami Makhlouf is robbing us".

Years before the Syrian Intifada, a man hinted about nepotism and corruption at the higher echelons and got into serious trouble. Riad Seif, a leading dissident in the Forum for National Dialogue, and a co-author of the Damascus Declaration, had criticized what he called irregularities in the phone licenses. He was arrested and jailed.

Rami Nakhle (nickname online is "Malath Aumran"), an activist who fled Syria for Lebanon early 2011, began an Internet campaign to boycott Syriatel in 2008. He urged people to switch off their phones for four hours on the first day of the month. An online petition that he and other young activists circulated received 5,000 signatures.

Nadim Houry from Human Rights Watch in Beirut summarized the situation to the New York Times in April 2011: “Ideologically the (Syrian) regime doesn’t stand for much anymore beyond the interests of certain individuals... He’s (Rami Makhlouf) a symbol of what is perceived as private interests controlling large chunks of Syria’s economy".

Le Monde, 23 April 2011

Transparency International in its 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, ranked Syria as “highly corrupt”. It recommended, “Transparency and accountability are critical to restoring trust and turning back the tide of corruption”.

Bashar Assad, since the year 2000, regularly promised to eradicate corruption, but nothing really changed in Syria beside some highly publicized arrests of a few corrupt officials. Pure public relations. Meanwhile, the regime kept salaries of state employees so low that Syrians have no choice but to ask for kickbacks in order to survive. And it excelled in humiliating the people and keeping them busy struggling to survive – in the hope they will not engage in politics and consider demanding a say in running their country.

Bashar Assad (right) and his brother Maher.

Abusing Syria and Syrians: Human rights violations and crimes against humanity

The current human rights situation in Syria can only be described as horrific with thousands detained without charges and tortured (more than 10,000 detained and missing between mid-March and early 2012). Almost 6,000 killed, according to UN and Syrian opposition groups. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International regularly issue shocking reports about the crimes committed by Assad’s numerous security services.

HRW on December 15, 2011 published a report naming Syrian 74 officers and officials who gave orders to their soldiers to end protests "by all means necessary". Note that the Commander-in-chief of the Syrian armed forces is Bashar Assad. The HRW report is the first list for future trials in Syria. Nr. 75 being Assad the son, Nr. 76 Maher Assad.

The Assad clan always treated the Syrian people with brutality and disdain. Remember how Hafez Assad - the man with a frightening smile - ordered the bombardment of the city of Hama in 1982. Thousands were then killed to crush a rebellion by the Moslem Brotherhood. Remember how he stripped the Syrian nationality from hundreds of thousands of Syrian Kurds, denying them basic rights and pushing them into deeper poverty.

The Baath regime committed crimes against humanity under Assad the father and Assad the son who sent tanks first into the city of Deraa then to Hama, Homs and other towns and villages to quell protests. Bashar Assad, himself an Alawi, also started playing the sectarian card, with his cronies claiming that the Alawi minority is under threat by Sunni Salafists – ignoring protesters chanting that this is all about freedom, dignity and democracy for all.

His thugs, called “shabiha” (ghosts), shoot from rooftops on protesters, kidnap, brutally torture and kill, including 13-year-old Hamza Ali al-Khateeb in May 2011. Citizen journalists reported about this tragedy. In Damascus and elsewhere “shabiha” disguised as protestors chanted, “Alawis in the coffin and Christians to Beirut!” – to terrorize and send a clear message: It is the Assad clan in power or chaos and a civil war.

The Assads installed a republic of fear with informants everywhere, even among schoolchildren. But the wall of fear collapsed in March 2011. Even the massive clampdowns by the army`s 4th Division, led by Bashar Assad’s brother Maher, is not deterring people from stepping up their peaceful protests. Their messages to Assad the son is very clear: No U-turn; the people want to topple the regime; we will not fall into the trap of a Sunni-Alawi conflict; you will end up in jail".

"The killer will be judged - no dialogue" - Syria 2011

The crimes of the Assads in Lebanon

In Lebanon, the Assads brought nothing but mayhem as they systematically destabilized the country with the help of Lebanese allies like former presidents Suleiman Franjieh, parties like the Marada, the Baath (yes, there is a Lebanese Baath), the Free Patriotic Movement of General Michel Aoun, the Iran-funded Hezbollah headed my Hassan Nasrallah and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) headed by Assad Hardan.

In 1969, Syria's regime and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser coerced Lebanon into signing the fatal Cairo Agreement that allowed Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) guerrillas to establish military bases in southern Lebanon and attack Israel from there. This provoked regular Israeli retaliatory raids that punished the mainly Shia civilian population in the South. This led also to Israeli invading Lebanon twice, in 1978 and 1982. The number of casualties among Palestinians and Lebanese were by the thousands.

Note that Syria and Egypt never allowed Palestinian guerrillas to use their soil as a base for attacks against Israel. Note also that the Assads, Abdel Nasser, Iranian Mullahs, Saudi rulers, late Moammar Gaddafi of Libya, the defunct Soviet Union, France or the US were able to interfere in Lebanon because most Lebanese leaders sought foreign funding and protection. I put the blame first on Lebanon's confessionalist system and most of its rulers who were masters in selling their souls, their communities and Lebanon. That is sadly a historical fact since the Christian-Druze massacres in 1843.

Back to modern times.

In 1976, the Syrian army invaded Lebanon to prevent a victory of the Lebanese left and the PLO against the Lebanese right (Christians). West-Beirut was besieged and bombarded for months. I lived in the Ras El-Nabeh district and remember the nights with Grad and Katyusha missiles fired by Assad`s troops. Palestinian and Lebanese militias and so many civilians paid a heavy toll. A year later, leftist Lebanese leader Kamal Jumblatt was murdered by soldiers of Assad the father who wanted to control Lebanon and the PLO. He had ordered Jumblatt`s assassination to quell any serious and charismatic form of dissent.

Other assassinations against politicians, journalists and clergymen followed. The one event that crushed the remaining serious opposition to Hafez Assad was of Amal leader Musa Sadr who had stubbornly refused to push the Shia community into Assad's war against Christian militias in 1978. Sadr was lured by Assad's ally, Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, to Tripoli where he disappeared in August 1978.

Until the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990, Syrian troops also fought against many Lebanese factions, dividing and ruling at will.

From 1990 until 2005 (the year when the Syrian army was forced to leave Lebanon in the wake of mass protests, the "Cedar Revolution") the Baath regime undermined institutions and plundered the country with its cronies in Lebanon`s government and parliament. Today, Syrian interference is still strong as its allies – spearheaded by the Hezbollah – toppled the government of Saad Hariri in January 2011 by forcing Druze leader Walid Jumblatt to pull his support from Hariri. Walid Jumblatt, the son of Kamal Jumblatt, was threatened with death, several high-ranking and Lebanese sources told me. The pro-Syrian government of Premier Najib Mikati was then set up in Beirut in spring 2011.

In his 11-year career as a dictator, Bashar Assad committed two fatal strategic mistakes, one in Syria and one in Lebanon: The first was when, after taking over power in June 2000, he promised to introduce political and economic reforms but never delivered. He allowed a “Damascus Spring” , a period of intense political and social debate, to flourish between mid-2000 after his father`s death till autumn 2001. Assad the son then crushed dissent when realizing that it threatened the foundations of his regime. The last prisoner of the Damascus Spring movement was released in August 2008. Many have been detained again since the 2011 intifada started.

Bashar Assad’ second fatal mistake was his decision to order the assassination of Lebanese Premier Rafic Hariri in 2005. This was followed by the killing of other anti-Baath Lebanese politicians and journalists like Samir Kassir and Jibran Tueni. The series of murders led to the United Nations setting up the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in the Hague, Netherlands, to investigate and uncover the truth.

What we already know is that Bashar Assad, his brother Maher (controls Republican Guard and the elite Army 4th Division) and his brother-in-law Asef Shawkat (controls military intelligence) asked the Lebanese Hezbollah militia to carry out these murders – off course with the blessing of the Iranian regime that funds, arms and ultimately controls Hezbollah.

Media reports said Hezbollah members were behind the Hariri murder. UN investigator Detlev Mehlis issued a report in October 2005, clearly pointing the finger on Assad the son. The report`s main conclusions seemed to be bulletproof. In August 2011 the STL published the indictment of four Hezbollah members accused of having been part in the assassination plot.

Hezbollah, its Iranian backers and Assad accused Israel and the US of being behind the killing of Hariri.

As a revenge for the end of the military occupation of Lebanon, and in a partly successful attempt to regain control in Beirut, Bashar Assad and his Iranian allies encouraged Hezbollah to step up attacks against Israel`s northern border. This lead to the senseless 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war that left some more than 1,400 people in Lebanon dead. About 160 Israelis were killed. Hezbollah claimed a "victory" despite the many dead, the destruction and a shattered economy. Assad the son managed to destabilize Lebanon and made it clear that via Hezbollah he can at will cause mayhem.

But there are good news for Lebanon: The opposition Syrian National Council on 26 January 2012 announced that, after the fall of the Baath regime, it will put relations with its neighbor on a normal track. The main points of the announced policy:

_ Borders between the two states will be demarcated, particularly in the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms. Until today the Assad regime has refused to officially declare whether Shebaa is Lebanese or Syrian territory – at the same time it lets Hezbollah claim that Shebaa is Lebanese, giving the Iranian-backed militia a pretext to keep tensions high along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

_ Activities of Syrian intelligence and security in Lebanon, which have been systematically interfering in the country’s internal affairs, would end.

_ A commission of inquiry would be established to look into the cases of detained Lebanese and missing persons in Syrian prisons. Lebanese NGOs say they have the names of 545 people believed to be in Syrian prisons, all of them victims of enforced disappearance during the 1975-1990 Civil War.

If a post-Assad, democratic and free Syria introduces this new policy it would mean an end of controlling Lebanon`s institution by force, an end of assassinations, an end of channeling Iranian arms to Hezbollah and end of the decade-long policy of destabilization. A new era of relations between the two countries would start.

The crimes of the Assads against the Palestinian Cause

The Syrian Baath regime probably murdered more Palestinians directly or indirectly then Israel since the Jewish state was established on Palestinian land in 1948. When the Syrian army invaded Lebanon in 1976 to control the PLO Syrian heavy artillery then backed Lebanese pro-Israeli Christian right-wing militias in their onslaught against the Palestinian refugee camp of Tel al-Zaatar, which was wiped out. Estimates about the killed Palestinians vary between 1,500 and 3,000. In comparison, Israeli troops killed about 1,400 Palestinians during the Gaza War in 2006.

During the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), Assad the father armed “his” Palestinians under the banner of as-Saiqa headed in the 1970 by Zuheir Mohsen, the PFLP-GC headed by Ahmed Jibril, and the Abu Musa group. Hafez Assad`s aim was to weaken PLO leader Yassir Arafat and hold in his hands alone the Palestinian card in the geopolitical game.

I will never forget the as-Saiqa thugs who kidnapped me to Beirut’s Sabra refugee camp for a few hours in 1975 (I was 16) because of a joke I made about one of their gunmen who died during a fight over a loot – and not as a “martyr” in a battle against "imperialists and Zionists". I was lucky that friends saw who abducted me and alarmed my family. After a few phone calls I was released from an underground cell.

As-Saiqa was formed as an organization by the Syrian Baath in September 1966 and later activated to build up an alternative to Arafat. The group was used as a proxy force in the Palestinian movement. During the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War, Hafez Assad built as-Saiqa into one of the most important Palestinian militias and forced it to join in Syrian offensives against the PLO when relations between Assad and Arafat were tense.

As-Saiqa was responsible of the 1976 massacre of Lebanese Christians in the town of Damur in 1976 - to inflame sectarian tensions and destabilize the country. Today, as-Saiqa has become insignificant. The Assad regime has changed its strategy to supporting Palestinian Islamist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad to undermine the PLO.

Syrian troops in 1976 surrounded West Beirut for months and bombed and bombed, killing scores of Lebanese and Palestinians. As mentioned before, I lived in besieged West Beirut and Assad`s troops rained on us missiles and mortar rounds by the thousands until the city fell and Arafat had to accept Assad`s iron fist around his neck. At least for a while.

In 1983, Abu Musa gunmen and regular Syrian troops besieged the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli to squelch Arafat and again try to seize control of the PLO. Thousands were injured and killed; Arafat and his surviving guerrillas managed to flee on a boat to Tunisia.

In 1985-1988, the Amal militia headed by Nabih Berri (tragically Lebanon’s parliamentary president since 1992) committed crimes against humanity during the infamous “War of the Camps”. Hafez Assad ordered his man, Berri, to attack Palestinians camps in Beirut (Sabra and Chatila where pro-Israeli Lebanese militias massacred some 2,000 Palestinians in 1982, and in Borj al-Barajneh) and southern Lebanon (Ain al-Hlilweh), killing hundreds, in an attempt to crush Arafat’s guerrillas.

During these bloody 1980s Assad and his ally Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi ordered the assassination of moderate PLO leaders via the Abu Nidal group. Described by Patrick Seal as a “Gun for Hire”, Abu Nidal was a former PLO guerrilla who became a professional hit-man for Assad the father, Gaddafi and late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Some of my leftist friends often claim that one should acknowledge that the Assads at least indirectly gave hell to the Israelis by supporting Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad. I disagree. I believe the Syrian regime has played into the hands of the Israeli right by supporting these groups.

The Assads weakened the Palestinian cause because the Israeli right used attacks against civilians in Israel, carried out by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as an excuse to expand settlements and push away the dream of establishing a Palestinian state. The leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are based in Damascus - although by late 2011 Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal was silent about the Syrian Intifada and was allegedly trying to move his headquarters out of Damascus.

Regarding Hezbollah, indeed it liberated southern Lebanon after a long guerrilla war that ended in victory in May 2000, when Israeli troops withdrew from an enclave along the border. Earlier, during the 1975-1990 Lebanon Civil War, Iran and Syria gave Hezbollah the green light to monopolize the anti-Israel fight by murdering in the mid 1980s leftist and secular guerrillas who started the intifada against Israeli occupation in 1983. The “Lebanese Resistance” became by force an “Islamic Resistance”, an arm of the Iranian Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards).

Iran and Syria used Hezbollah into a tool to pressure Israel and its Western allies along Israel’s northern border. Hezbollah’s main role since 2000 was to help secure the regimes in Damascus and Tehran. The message sent by the party: “Let the Assad regime in peace, let the regime in Teheran go on with its military nuclear program or else Israel is in trouble with the thousands of missile we got from Iran via Syria”.

Islamic Jihad and to a much lesser extent Hamas were used for the same purpose in Gaza and elsewhere in Israel and the Palestine territories.

Pressures to liberate the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights or to support the Palestinians establish a state was definitely not on the agenda of the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis.

Cynicism at its best occurred when Assad`s security apparatus and PFLP-GC members ferried Palestinian refugees from Damascus to the border on the Golan Heights during the Nakba Day on May 15, 2011 (Israel was established 63 years earlier). Many Palestinians managed to cross into the Israeli occupied zone.

The same day, Hezbollah orchestrated a similar PR coup and allowed busloads of Palestinian refugees from camps in Lebanon to approach the border from the village of Marun al-Ras. At least 13 Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers after Assad, the PFLP-GC and Hezbollah sacrificed them in an attempt to send a warning message to Israel and the West.

Ironically, Rami Makhlouf a week earlier send via the New York Times this message: “If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel... No way, and nobody can guarantee what will happen after, God forbid, anything happens to this (Syrian) regime.” Asked if it was a warning or a threat, Makhlouf answered, "I didn't say war. What I’m saying is don’t let us suffer, don’t put a lot of pressure on the president, don’t push Syria to do anything it is not happy to do."

In mid-August the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which assists Palestinian refugees, said about 10,000 residents of a Palestinian refugee district in the Syrian port city of Latakia had fled during an assault, as Syrian security forces carried out arrests. "A forgotten population has now become a disappeared population," said UNRWA officials Christopher Gunness.

The district under attack, Raml, was set up in Latakia after 1948 when Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes during the battle for Palestine. Raml grew into one of the city’s largest areas. Demonstrations have erupted there since the Syrian intifada began in March 2011.

Mr. Gunness said forces directed heavy fire into the neighbourhood and that Syrian security officials had told some of the residents to leave. The Syrian authorities have refused UNRWA access to Raml, he said. PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo described the attack on Raml as “a crime against humanity”.

Meanwhile, Hamas has dumped the Assad regime; its activists have left Damascus and too refuge in Qatar, Jordan and Egypt.

The Syrian intifada

So many massacres have been taking place in Syria since March 2011. One highlight being Maher Assad filming people his troops killed, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDeV9I8c3YA&skipcontrinter=1. I will spare readers horrific images and films about the daily killing in Syria.

Meanwhile, Syrian activists seeking refuge in Lebanon are in constant danger. On May 24, 2011 Shibli al-Ayssami, an elderly man and one of the founders of the Syrian Baath, was kidnapped by unknown men in Aley, Lebanon. Until recently little came out about the investigation. Al-Ayssami retired from politics in 1992 and moved in 2003 to Egypt, before leaving for the US in 2008. He was in Lebanon to see his family when he was kidnapped.

The Lebanese anti-Syrian portal NOW Lebanon quoted in August 2011 a “high-ranking Internal Security Forces (ISF) officer” admitting that the investigation might not have been conducted properly for political reasons, as many Lebanese security officers are close to the Syrian regime. But, he noted, the ISF’s intelligence branch conducted its own inquiry into the disappearance and gathered valuable information. “We are 90 percent sure that al-Ayssami was taken by members of a major political party now in government, known for its Syrian ties,” he said.

This information was backed up by a report released in August 2011 by the Syrian Committee for Human Rights (SCHR), which accused a member of the Lebanese security apparatus of kidnapping al-Ayssami. “The officer is known to be close to a local party that is currently aligned to Syria. We have information about the license plate of the car that transferred al-Ayssami to Syria,” SCHR President Walid Saffour told NOW Lebanon. “Al-Ayssami is currently being held prisoner in a military intelligence building in Damascus.”

The SCHR report read, “Lebanon under the current regime is not a country that is safe for Syrian dissidents.”

The al-Ayssami case resembles that of the Jassem brothers, three Syrians who were arrested by the Lebanese security services in February 2011 for distributing flyers calling for democratic change in Syria. They vanished after their release. Later reports said one of the men died in custody.

Such disappearances highlight the Lebanese state’s failure to protect people in the country as well as the lack of judicial oversight in investigating possible cases of police corruption and collusion with the Syrian regime. “A culture of impunity prevails currently in Lebanon,” said Nadim Houry, head researcher at Human Rights Watch in Beirut.

Back to Syria where the success of the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs) stems from their ability to stay decentralized, work in secret and fashion messages and slogans that mobilize the masses. The youthful demonstrators who make up these LCCs have bridged divides of sect, religion and class. They built on years of local dissidence that created informal networks of friends and colleagues.

“Reporting the news, that’s how we started,” said activist Rami Nakhke (know online as Malath Aumran). Even before the uprising, activists had smuggled in cell phones, satellite modems and computers in preparation for the intifada. In the earliest days, activists managed to offer a narrative of the uprising that was revealing, incomplete and subjective. In the weeks that ensued activists coalesced into committees that reached out to one another.

Rami Nakhle said the first committee arose in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, and the best-organized were in Syria’s third-largest city, Homs. There, activists came together in committees, with a small number of people helping coordinate many more on the ground to document demonstrations. It is in a way like a news agency coordinating hundreds of citizen journalists.

Nationwide, thousands are fully engaged in the committees, with the majority of them overwhelmingly young. Across Syria, many activists who are acknowledged as committee leaders try to communicate via internet and satellite phones.

The Syrian government has been cracking down on protesters’ use of social media and the Internet. Syrian activists said security officials are moving on multiple fronts:

_ They force detained dissidents turn over their Facebook passwords
_ They switch off the mobile network at times, sharply limiting the ability of dissidents to upload videos of protests to YouTube, but many are relying on satellite technology to bypass this
_ Supporters of Assad the son are using the same online tools to try to discredit dissidents
_ Regime thugs have been confiscating cameras, mobile phones and laptops of people they suspect of supporting the intifada.

"Leave, blood general"

With foreign journalists barred from the country, dissidents have been working with exiles and using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to draw global attention to the brutal crackdown. The Facebook page
Syrian Revolution 2011 and many others have been a vital source of information for dissidents. “The only way we get information is through the citizen journalists,” said Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian activist based in Maryland who was one of several Syrian exiles to help organize delivery of satellite phones, cameras and laptops into Syria. “Without them, we would not know anything.”

To help counter the protesters’ successful online narrative, pro-government supporters in Syria have created Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and YouTube channels to disseminate pro-regime messages. In addition, the “Syrian Electronic Army group” is working to disrupt dissident efforts. Their Facebook page was shut down by Facebook for outlining detailed instructions on how to attack opponents online, a violation of Facebook’s terms of service. In this website, the “electronic army” describes itself as “enthusiastic Syrian youths who could not stay passive towards the massive distortion of facts about the recent uprising in Syria”. It boasts about hacking enemy sites.

Intifada humor

A group called the “Strong Heroes Of Moscow” released a rap video in June 2011 satirizing Assad the son. Aljazeera TV published an English translation of the Arabic lyrics, which say that “freedom” is a “conspiracy coming from Mars.” Here is an excerpt:

"We’re going to fill all the cells, we’re going to fill all the prisons. We want to empty the Russian guns, for the sake of the Assadi nation.Your name is always up there, your voice is heard up in the skies. Even if your own people starve to death we will elect you for eternity. We don’t have one opinion, or two opinions. We have your light that blinds the eyes. You are our magnificent, you beautiful thing. You are the king of humanity!" When the song is over, the video cuts to footage of men dressed in military gear beating a protester on his knees.

One man, Ibrahim Kachouch, became famous in June 2011 when he sang very creative and funny anti-Assad slogans in a song to the crowds. He was later killed in Hama by regime thugs. People repeat his song "Yalla ir7al ya Bashar!" (Come on Bashar, leave) at every anti-Assad demonstration in Syria and abroad.

The multimedia team of the Syrian intifada has created satirical posters like this:

“Shabbih (ghost) Nr. 1 – Specialized in killing demonstrators” 

An example of a Facebook activist’s humor:

كتشفنا للأسف أن
حسني مش مبارك
و بشار مش اسد
و بن علي مش زين
و علي عبد الله مش صالح
و القذافي طلع مش معمر شي

I especially liked this film http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRh4hd9zl-w that made me tweet the following: "Congratulations #Nasrallah + his #Hezbollah for turning #Syria people against #Lebanon #Shia!" The Syrian opposition has been charging that Hezbollah members and Pasdaran were actively supporting Assad's troops in arresting, torturing and killing.

Bashar Assad seems to have no humor at all. In the early morning hours of August 24, 2011 masked members of his security forces pulled Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat out of his car near Damascus' Umayyad Mosque. He was then beaten, his hands broken, and dumped on the road leading to the airport. Pictures of Farzat convalescing in a hospital bed were posted online.

Bashar Assad, by Ali Farzat

Farzat was no ordinary Syrian opposed to the Assad regime; he is one of the Arab world's finest political cartoonists. During the short-lived moment of political liberalization at the beginning of Bashar's reign in 2000, he launched his own satirical newspaper, al-Domari. It was soon closed as Syrian authorities returned to their old habits. But Farzat kept drawing.

One fun site is https://www.facebook.com/imlover.so.imstupid where a person or a team ridicules Assad and his stooges who regularly shout to their dictator "Minhibbak" (we love you).

In Homs, the "Stalingrad" of the Assad regime, people are known for their humor. They can make fun of themselves, even under bombs. Jokes from there:

_ A man brings home a chicken to be cooked in the oven. But there’s no gas, she tells him. The stove? No electricity, she moans. Spared, the chicken shouts the slogan of Assad supporters: “Allah, Suriya, Bashar wa bass!" (God, Syria, Bashar and no one else)

_ A Homsi asks his friend, "Will we continue demonstrating after the fall of the regime?" The friend, says "What does this have to do with that?"

_ When Assad the son promised a referendum on a new constitution to take place end feb 2012:

!حمصي ع الدستور الجديد راح يترشح عالرئاسة .. قلو الموظف: حيوان انت ولا؟ أبتفهم؟ جحش
جاوب الحمصي: يعني هي من شروط الترشح للرئاسة؟

:منحبكجي قال لـــ حمصــي
هي مؤامرة لتقسيم سوريا الأسد ..
صفن الحمصي شوي
وقال والله فكرة إنتو خدو الأسد ونحنا مناخد سوريا

Here is a slogan people chant when demonstrating: Ya Bashar, ya Bashar, na7na ma 3andna thawrat Facebook, na7na 3andna thawrat teis abuk! (Bashar, Bashar, we are not having a Facebook revolution, we are having a revolution against your father's idiot, i.e. you).

Asma Assad provoked someone into setting up a mock website under her name, http://www.asmaassad.com/, in which she is quoted as writing: "I am Asma Assad. I am the wife of a vicious war criminal. He murders innocent civilians. He sends his henchman to torture children, snipe innocent civilians, rape women, young girls, and boys. He is currently decimating my hometown, Homs. He bombs mosques, churches, hospitals and his brutality knows no limits. He is trying to pit Alawites against Sunnis against Christians and against Kurds. I told him this will not work, but he is confident that it will..."

Amuda in Hasaka region, Feb 2012


Looking back to the era of the pre-Syrian intifada, one cannot but remember the mother of all propaganda quotes from Bashar Assad, published in the Wall Street Journal on 31 January 2011: "If you didn’t see the need for reform before what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, it’s too late to do any reform... Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence… you will have this vacuum that creates disturbances".

Assad the son did not admit the need for reform, and he was dead wrong when claiming that Syria was stable. Six weeks later the Syrian intifada started on March 15. His delusional approach has been developing to the worse since then. In December 2011, Bashar Assad gave a disturbing interview to a US TV station in which he claimed he is "not guilty" of any wrongdoings and that he did not give any orders to shoot at people.

In a speech on 10 January 2012 he was not only as delusional as the previous ones, he was defiant and clearly wanted to mobilize his supporters. He spoke to the Shabiha and not to the people. Days later he was speaking to crowds in the Omayyad Square in Damascus, a desperate act that reminded me of Gaddafi speeches in Tripoli's Green Square before he was toppled.

Meanwhile, the Syrian intifada led to the isolation of the Assad regime, to US, EU and Arab league sanctions and to more and more defections among the army and security forces. A Free Syrian Army has started to form and defend protesters. And the Syrian National Council (SNC) was established, a coalition that includes the LCCs, the exiled Moslem Brotherhood, liberals and intellectuals from all walks of life.

By March 2012, the Syrian rebels were in control of numerous urban and rural areas - by day and night. At night, .Assad's troops and Shabiha cannot move safely between many cities.

The only ones left who still believe Bashar Assad can introduce reforms and save his regime are autocrats and dictators like Russian Premier Vladimir Putin (linked to the rigging of parliamentary elections), Sudanese President Omar Bashir (wanted for crimes against humanity) and Iran's leaders (who rigged past elections and are responsible for numerous human rights violations). Not the best friends you can rely on when in deep trouble.

A ruler like Bashar Assad who is responsible for ordering the arrests, torture and killing of peaceful activists can never introduce any serious reforms. There is no way back for a dictator the moment he enters the vicious circle of violence. Any serious reform would lead to his arrest – he, family members and cronies. See the fate of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his two sons. This is also why a dictator like Libya's Moammar Gaddafi could only fight until his death in the summer of 2011 - and not give an inch of real power or introduce a millimeter of political reform. Too much blood, too much plundering. Fear from accountability.

After declaring the end of state of emergency in the spring of 2011, Assad the son in July gave the green light for a "national dialogue" that saw members of the regime and their supporters talking with themselves. In early August 2011 he passed a decree allowing a multi-party system. These moves where at best cynical public relations. The Baath party, which controls the country since 1963, was still guaranteed by the Syrian constitution the role of "leading state and society".

Bashar Assad has chosen force as his ultimate response to the popular intifada sweeping Syria. He cannot and will not change his strategy of brutal repression. His back is on the wall. He will fight until the bitter end because he and his entourage have no place in a free and democratic Syria – except in jail.

The Syrian regime

The Baath regime is dying and will be pulled down or it may implode in a surprise development. This is inevitable because the wall of fear is gone and because it is now the Assad clan and their stooges who are afraid. People will not stop protesting and fighting despite the brutal repression.

Abdel Hafidh Ghoga, Vice chairman of Libya's Transitional National Council in August 2011, sent an advice to Assad the son, shortly after the fall of Gaddafi: "He should be extremely worried because he’s following in the same steps that Gaddafi did, and he is as doomed. Without doubt, when the people of a nation have marched forward and demanded democracy and freedom, and, in particular, when there has been such a loss of blood, there is no turning back."

Bashar Assad did not listen and will not; he cannot but govern without the consent of those being governed. His appearance in Umayyade Square in Damascus on January 11, 2012 reminded me of Gaddafi's regular speeches in Tripoli's "Green Square" before the latter was toppled. Dictators desperately tend to reach out to the people when things get really messy.

The Arab League gave it a shot, but its mission in Syria failed to stop the killing and in January 2012 ended its mission because of the deteriorating security situation. Its head resigned a month later. Tunisia in February 2012 shut down the Syrian embassy in Tunis, a move followed by other Arab states. Meanwhile, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have called for arming the opposition Free Syrian Army.

The isolation of Bashar Assad became truly global when on 16 February 2012 the UN General Assembly approved a non-binding resolution calling for the removal of Assad the son from power. This came after Arab League members states, the US and the EU failed on February 4th to pass a UN Security Council resolution demanding decisive actions to protect the Syrian people. Russia and China vetoed this, a move that will just prolong the agony and strengthen the resolve of the Syrian people. It will not save Assad. The Syrian dictator and the Baath regime are doomed. Nothing and no one can save them.

And after the fall of the Baath regime Syria will be come a source of stability in the region.

Action: Ask the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute Bashar Assad. Write a letter to the ICC!

Fouad Hamdan is a former correspondent of the German Press Agency DPA in Cairo and the Gulf (1987-1990). He established Greenpeace Lebanon (1994-1999) and worked as Communications Director of Greenpeace Germany (1999-2004). Fouad was the founding executive director of the Arab Human Rights Fund in Beirut (2008-2012). Since January 2011 he has been working on democracy-building projects in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. "Hopefully also in Syria soon," he says.


_ The Syrian National Council: 
_ Syrian Revolution on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Syrian.Revolution, https://www.facebook.com/rev.multimediateam
_ The free Syrian Journalists Association (for the time being from exile, soon from free Damascus): https://www.facebook.com/SyrianJournalistsAssociation
_ The Free Syrian Army: 
_ The Assad emails, published 15 March 2012: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/14/assad-emails-lift-lid-inner-circle
_ The Arab League mission in Syria: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwkgqBIOh60&feature=player_embedded#!
_ Syrian Observatory for Human Rights: http://www.syriahr.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Syrian-Observatory-for-Human-Rights/121855461256134?sk=wall
_ Caricaturist Ali Farzat: http://www.ali-ferzat.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ali-Farzat-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%8A-%D9%81%D8%B1%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%AA/74184769474?sk=wall
_ Syrian Revolution General Commission: http://www.srgcommission.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/SyrianRevolutionGeneralCommission
_ Understanding the roots of the Assad dictatorship: http://www.ademocracynet.com/index.php?page=articles&action=Detail&id=2507
_ The Damascus Bureau, http://damascusbureau.org/arabic/
_ Map of the battle for Homs, http://syriamap.wordpress.com/
_ Mock website of Asma Assad, http://www.asmaassad.com/

One of the many heroes of the Syrian revolution, Fadwa Suleiman, who is an Alawi . Check her statements and activities in the Homs area:
_ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=PlQlLxh5rEE
_ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUx3SPSqI8E&feature=related
_ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EWjlWCs1M3U

_ Online activists I recommend you follow:

_ Videos and film archive: http://onsyria.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/Syrian.R.V?sk=wall
_ The Assad Clan: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150265113601430&set=a.10150113415956430.283411.541221429&type=1&theater
_ Full length Assad speech on 10 January 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=vcWpvEYIiXc#!
_ Lost chances of Assad the son: http://www.merip.org/mero/mero041311
_ The Forum for National Dialogue, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4575987.stm
_ The Damascus Declaration, http://www.demdigest.net/damascusdeclaration.html
_ Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2010, http://www.transparency.org/publications/publications/cpi2010
_ WikiLeaks about Rami Makhlouf, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/143458

_ On Hezbollah and its senseless war with Israel in 2006, http://www.fouadhamdan.org/cms/upload/pdf/Now_is_decision_time_Sayid_Nasrallah_FouadHamdan_DailyStar_ENGLISH_12may2006.pdf

Pro-Assad sites:
_ Addounia TV, http://www.addounia.tv/web/main.php
_ The Syrian Electronic Army Group, http://www.syrian-es.com/
_ http://www.ademocracynet.com/index.php?page=articles&action=Detail&id=928
_ https://www.facebook.com/president.al.asad
_ https://www.facebook.com/syria.tube
_ https://www.facebook.com/syrians.youtube

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