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Syria: The March

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The March
by Zakira Suriyeh

“Today, we march in millions to the squares across Al-Assad’s Syria. We march to declare that this is Al-Assad’s Syria. It is Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria and nothing will help you, not your money, not your betrayal, not your false media; nothing in the universe will help you. We will chant, ‘God, Bashar, Syria and nothing else’ and ‘The people want Bashar Al-Assad.’ The entire world will witness the march of millions, from all Syrian sects.”

This was the Syrian president’s message a few days ago to his people via Facebook, a call for a nationwide march (maseera) to support the regime on March 29. It was dubbed the “March of Loyalty” for the people to express their love and obedience to the president, the great defender of Syria. And they responded, in the thousands, filling the squares across Syria, bearing flags and posters, chanting and dedicating their souls and blood to Bashar Al-Assad.

These marches are a typical control tactic used by the Assad regime for the past 40 years. I remember the marches of the late 80’s and 90’s under the leadership of Assad, the father. They were carefully planned to include all schools, universities and governmental offices, and most importantly they were mandatory.

On the day of the march, we were asked to come to school with our military uniforms cleaned and pressed, our black combat boots polished. Our teachers organized us first by height then by looks, the tallest and the prettiest would lead the rest of the school. The dreaded second row were assigned to carry the flags and banners. We walked from our school to the main square, as the students from the other schools streamed in from different directions. We chanted “Hafiz Al-Assad for eternity!” until our voices grew hoarse. The teachers made random checks during the march to make sure no one defected along the way to the square. Those who dared to escape, as they called it, would face a harsh punishment the next morning, like being ordered to crawl across the school yard on their chests without using their hands or legs, or suffer a humiliating slap across the face during morning assembly. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Wajahat Ali

April 5, 2011 at 9:58 am

Posted in Middle East

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Libya Queues in the No-fly Zone Quagmire

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By Mehrunisa Qayyum

Who will be permitted to fly the friendly skies over Libya?  The clouds of various national interests and humanitarian rhetoric occupy the no-fly zone skies.  Hence, three arguments serve as the common denominator as purported by regional bodies, like the League of Arab States (LAS) and the African Union (AU), as well as powerful actors like the United States, EU and NATO.  Below summarize the three simultaneous conditions that must all emerge to warrant a no-fly zone.  However, the fourth alludes to the details that concern the remaining members of the UN Security Council (UNSC):

  1. 1. Support from the Middle East and North African region;
  2. 2. A clear, legal basis (UN Security Council Resolution);
  3. 3. There is demonstrable need (air attack on civilians); and
  4. 4. ????e.g. Who would be participating? Will certain areas be targeted?

The fourth condition, specifically, signifies the details of the proposed draft UN Security resolution for the no-fly zone.  In particular, the US, Russia, Germany and China continue to question Libya’s queue in the no-fly zone quagmire.  Issues will have to address humanitarian aid flights—such as identifying areas that would require safe passage.  Lebanon’s representative to the UN Security Council, and the proxy Arab Representative of the League, Ambassador Nawaf Salam, said his delegation worked with their counterparts at Libya’s U.N. to identify specific towns and regions that would need safe passage and protection.  The UN Security Council will review a possible “flight plan” to convince those like the US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice.

First things first: where does the international community, namely the US, stand on the first three conditions of the checklist?  The first condition, or the regionally born initiative, has been met by the recent LAS resolutions.  However, Libya’s quagmire underscores the tendency for contradictory statements to be issued within the same 24 hour period.  For example, the League passed two resolutions:

  • Request the UNSC to implement a no-fly zone.
  • Rejects any form of foreign intervention in Libya .

The League’s Secretary General, Amr Moussa declared that, “We are of the opinion that we should base our decision on the fact that we should prevent the bombardment of civilians, and provide freedom for the expression of Libyans to express their voice.”   Thus, the first of the three conditions have been met.

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Written by Wajahat Ali

March 19, 2011 at 7:59 am

Where Is Ghassan Yasin? Another Free Syrian “Disappears” : Mohja Kahf

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MOHJA KAHF,  3/1/2011

GhassanYasinAleppo-Feb2011.jpg

Syrians live in fear of saying the wrong word. Ghassan Yasin said it on February 17.

Yasin, a thirty-something resident of Aleppo, Syria, created a grass-roots group called the Committee to Combat Corruption.  This in itself, a citizen organizing a committee, is an illegal act in Syria, without prior government clearance. Representin the Committee, Yasin speaks briefly but candidly via phone on a news program airing in Syria on the Orient TV satellite channel at three p.m. Thursday February 17. The theme : “Syria’s Day of Outrage.”  The host introduces Yasin by effusing, “You’re against corruption!  You have a committee against corruption? Can you work in corrupt conditions?”

“Definitely not “ Yasin replies. Here’s what gets said next; the man is paying dearly for these words, so I’d like to print them in full:

Yasin: “It’s an idea on the internet, on Facebook, but it will definitely become reality some day….the topic of this episode is very important, regardless who calls for going out and who is against it. I live in this country and I wish I could go out to the street and protest just like anyone else in another country. But our demands are going to be very limited. We’re not going to demand, like the people of Tunisia and Egypt, the downfall of the regime and changing it, and such slogans…this does not represent the Syrian people. We, as youth living in Syria, love our country a lot and are proud of its foreign stances. But we have a specific perspective. We can be resistant and be Arab nationalist, but at the same time our country can be in good shape.

I feel like Syria is for all Syrians, not just five percent of them. Syria has more corruption than Egypt and more corruption than Tunisia-but we don’t want any protests. Our demands are going to be very limited, and I’ll tell you right now on the air: we are going to out to the streets, but we’re not going to demand the downfall of the regime. We’re going to demand the downfall of corruption—the corruption that the government in all its press releases says, “We are against corruption” so therefore we are practically with the government. But there is a difference in the apparatuses. The government for forty years has been using slogans, just slogans, and slogans that are socialist, but where is the socialism in reality? How is there socialism and we have private industry?” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Wajahat Ali

March 2, 2011 at 7:51 am

Posted in Middle East

A Brave New Arab World

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by Sabir Ibrahim

Over the course of 18 days, a popular uprising in Egypt swept one of the world’s longest-ruling dictators from power. Ripple effects from the downfall of Hosni Mubarak are being felt in Libya, Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, and Bahrain as Arabs, emboldened by the Egyptians (who were themselves emboldened by the Tunisians), are breaking long-standing barriers of fear that have thus far kept popular resistance to autocratic rule from taking root. Though it remains to be seen what long-term effect the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings will have on the region, the events of the past month undoubtedly signal the dawn of a new era in the politics of the Arab World.

Discussions of a post-Mubarak future in the Middle East have centered on two key questions: what now and who’s next. Egypt’s fate now lies in the hands of its military, which took control of the country after forcing Mubarak to step down on February 11. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, led by Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, has dissolved parliament and suspended Egypt’s constitution. Though the army has vowed to stand aside and hold elections within six months, any optimism that the fall of Mubarak’s government will immediately usher in a new era of democracy should be tempered by unease over the absence of a constitution and the concentration of absolute power in the hands of a few army generals. Militaries in poor countries that become involved in politics don’t have a great record of living up to their promises. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Wajahat Ali

February 27, 2011 at 1:36 am

Making dictatorships pretty: Isn’t that Hillary Clinton’s job?

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A Fashion Commentary by Rahat Kurd

Something sinister lurks inside the dazzle and shine of Vogue magazine’s print version of the March 2011 ‘Power Issue’. Among features on iconic performer Lady Gaga and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, past the Miu Miu heels and the sample strip of Jimmy Choo’s new perfume, a few good pages are spent glossing the ego of Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syria’s dictator.

The article, “A Rose in the Desert” (Vogue, March 2011, p. 529), written by Joan Juliet Buck and photographed by James Nachtwey, is an exercise in the surreal alternating with the dangerously fantasist. Fawning over the “glamorous, young, and very chic” Assad, the writer repeats a Paris Match quote calling her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones” – then blandly informs readers: “In Syria, power is hereditary.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Wajahat Ali

February 27, 2011 at 1:05 am

Posted in Middle East

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