Assad Is Not Syria. Part 4: Gangster to Genocidal Fraudster.


[Previous Part 3] See:

Assad Is Not Syria. Part 4: Gangster to Genocidal Fraudster.

[Posted By Lara Keller 16/2/17, Updated 8/5/19]

Syrian Revolution 2011

The sparks that ignited the Syrian Revolution in 2011 are well documented. The torture of 15 teenage boys for spraying “the people want to topple the regime, it’s your turn next doctor” in March 2011 in Deraa caused public outrage. The psychopathic arrogance and lack of any punishment of the security chief in Deraa, Atef Najib a cousin of Bashar Assad, ensured disaster. He is alleged to have said to the boys relatives “men go home and have new children, and if any of you lack the virility to do so, send your wives to my office and I will ensure they leave pregnant”.

The underlying causes have been described in earlier essays. A brutal regime that had ruled since 1970 by the use of systematic torture. The rampant corruption that saw the clique around Assad enriching themselves as ordinary people descended into poverty. The mismanagement of the economy, and failure to respond to population increase, drought and falling oil production. The Arab Democratic uprising that was sweeping the MENA region, was an opportunity that ordinary Syrians were waiting for to rid themselves of the Assad malignancy. The most feared secret police in the region, and a deliberate system of sectarian division and incorporation of a select layer of society, delayed the outbreak of the demands for representative government in Syria.

The violent and duplicitous response of the Assad regime is well documented. At the outset the regime claimed it was popular, and protests were due to Islamic extremists and malicious foreign intervention. Regime thugs were sent to demonstrations to fire on protesters, while the security forces claimed they were being attacked, and joined in the violence against unarmed Syrians.

The well connected but dissent Alawite Syrian author Samar Yazbek described the regime response in an article published August 2011:

“Two huge men entered the room. ….. Then I straightened up and shouted, ‘Where are you taking me?’ He answered calmly, and I heard a certain buzz. ‘For a little drive, to improve your writing.’ I was certain they had decided to arrest me.

….. I did not expect what awaited me to be horrible, despite everything I had read about prisons; I had tried to write about what I had heard and imagined, but all that meant nothing the moment I opened my eyes. ……… The man standing before me opened one of the doors. A sharp buzz started quickly and then ended with slow beats, sad beats like a melody I heard once in a Greek bar. One of the men grasped my elbow and pushed me further in, and kept holding my arm and the open door, and there . . . I saw them. It was a cell scarcely big enough for two or three to stand in. I could not see clearly, but I made out three bodies hanging there, I did not know how! I was bewildered, and my stomach began to convulse. The bodies were nearly naked. There was a dim light seeping in from somewhere, feeble rays for enough vision to discern that they were youths of no more than 20 years old. Their fresh young bodies were clear beneath the blood. They were suspended from their hands in steel cuffs, and their toes barely touched the floor. Blood streamed down their bodies, fresh blood, dried blood, deep bruises visible like the blows of a random blade. Their faces looked down; they were unconscious, and they swayed to and fro like slaughtered animals.

I retreated, but one of the men grabbed me and pushed me, in total silence. One young man raised his head in agony, and the weak light allowed me to see his face.

He had no face; his eyes were completely encrusted. I could see no light in his eyes. There was no place for his nose or even lips. His face was like a red painting with no lines. Red mixed with black.

At that point I collapsed, and the two men lifted me up. For a minute I teetered on a slippery spot, blindly, and it took several moments for me to regain my balance on my feet. I heard one of them tell the other, ‘Man, she can’t take it. Look at her. The closet’s killing her!’

Then that smell gushed out, the smell of blood, urine and faeces. Abruptly they took me out of the cell and opened another, and as they did so, the sounds of screaming and torture came from somewhere. Never had I heard such sounds of pain. They did not stop until we left the passage.

A second cell was opened…..

I asked one of the men, as they tied the blindfold back on me, ‘Are those the boys from the demonstrations?’ ‘Those are the traitors from the demonstrations,’ one of them answered.

My question irritated him. He seized my elbow and squeezed it harshly, until I thought he would break it. I stumbled and fell, but instead of letting me get up, he kept dragging me. I felt a scalding pain in my bones when I thought back on the boys who had gone out to demonstrate. All those smells were in my mouth, and the images from the cells covered the blackness before my eyes. We stopped. They pulled off the blindfold and I saw him sitting behind an elegant desk, and I knew that this was not a nightmare. He stared at me derisively. …… “


Green Progressive (?) Apologist for Assad

This is shocking, the torturers are a sick debasement of what it means to be human. What disgusts me to my core, is not Assad and the scum around him, but the response of “progressives” in the West that I once respected.

A representative example of this response is the UK Green Party Politician Baroness Jenny Jones speaking on BBC Question Time panel programme on 5th November 2015 about the Syrian Crisis:

“I have worked [in] and visited Syria many many times, and the fact is that it was an incredibly stable country, considering it was a vile dictatorship and so on, it was actually a very safe stable country, people were repressed but actually they got on with their lives, ermmm, there was a lot of employment, food was cheap, it was a good place to live, and believe me our [Western] bombing has made it one of the worse places on Earth to live [strong audience applause ….]”   [See]

In the mid-1990s she got an MA in Archaeology as a mature student, and then spent 10 years working in Syria and other countries in the Middle East as an archaeologist. Her statement on Syria is oddly contradictory, out dated and inaccurate. Her attitude is orientalist and unconsciously racist, evoking the colonial idea that so called “backward” people are better off under dictatorial rule.

The “bombing” she refers to are the airstrikes against the Islamic extremists ISIL, by the US lead coalition, that started in August 2014. ISIL had originated in Iraq among marginalized Sunnis after the US invasion, and infiltrated the mostly rural and sparsely populated East of Syria after the 2011 Syrian Revolution. Aerial bombing against terrorist groups, mostly kills civilians, and is a racist counterproductive anti-extremist tactic. It implies that the number of civilians killed is unimportant, as long as some terrorists who may threaten the West are killed. In late 2015 the Assad regime had been conducting a four and half years long campaign of mass murder against Syrians. In September 2015 the Russians had started to add to the indiscriminate bombing of opposition held areas. The Assad regime was responsible for over 90% of the deaths and causalities. Jenny Jones statement that Western bombing against ISIL “has made it [Syria] one of the worse places on Earth to live” is fantastically deranged.

She was wearing a red poppy in memory of those who died defeating Nazism in the Second World War, and a white poppy in memory I assume of those who died pointlessly in the First World War. She has campaigned for a long time for civil liberties in the UK against an increasingly surveillance orientated state, and publicizes her attendance of Amnesty International meetings at the UK House of Lords. Some people it seems deserve freedom from repression more than others. This is the racist reactionary dogma that many influential (who claim to be) equality minded progressives preach.

The “progressives” in the West have been mostly indecisive and ineffective in helping to end the Syrian Crisis. The hard-left and obsessive anti-war progressives have actively apologized for the Assad regime. The courage of the activists who went out on the streets in Syria knowing what may await them, shines a frightening light on the rotten edifice of Western progressive betrayal.

Polls and Alleged Assad Regime Popularity

The Assad regime has been responsible for mass terror and extortion since the military coup in 1970. It has also been responsible with previous regimes, for some material progress (although this is exaggerated in official statistics) and for putting up a patchy resistance to the territorial expansion of Zionist Israel. Any government has to justify itself to its population. The Assad clique have taken the attitude that Syria is their private estate, in which the population must earn privileges.

The vast majority of Syrians want and deserve far better than the Assad regime. This was true in 2011, and is beyond any reasonable doubt now. This case has been undermined by the lack of reliable polls and election in Syria, where the regime’s laws effectively criminalise any opinion that counters the regime. It claims that the interests of the regime and the Syrian people are synonymous, so that any serious dissent is treason.

The non-profit “Democracy Council” of California partnered with Professor Angela Hawken, of the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, to conduct a study of Syrian public opinion in 2010. This opinion polling was independent of the regime, and was carried out without seeking their permission. Sixty Syrian field workers were trained to conduct 1046 interviews with Syrian adults. This secret “guerrilla polling” is an unorthodox response to a hostile environment, the main problem is that polling in Assad regime’s Syria is so complicated that few polls can be conducted to provide comparisons. Angela Hawkin is now a board member of the “Democracy Council”.

60.5% of participants felt the economic and political situation in Syria was bad or very bad, while 9.7% felt it was good or very good, the rest were neutral. 47.4% felt the situation was going to get worse in the future, while 17% felt would improve. Participants described the most critical issue facing Syria, 22.9% political freedom, 20.3% corruption, 15.7% living standard and 13.4% cost of living (the last two are surely related?). 59.6% felt democracy and human rights were bad or very bad, only 9% felt they were good, while the rest were neutral. On the question of lifting the emergency laws (in force since 1960s) 79.7% were in favour, 5.5% were against and the rest neutral.

[Survey Finding: Syria 2010 Public Opinion Survey, Angela Hawken, Jonathan Kulick et al, Pepperdine University, Report Prepared For Democracy Council Of California, 5th August 2010]

The survey results are weighted by age, sex and province. There seems to be no attempt to adjust for income. The survey reports that 60.5% of participants had access to the internet. Similar but relatively more open societies, are reported by the World Bank in 2010, to have access rates to the internet, of 36.8 % in Tunisia and 21.6% in Egypt. In addition the Assad regime was reluctant to introduce the internet to Syria. It seems reasonable to assume the survey is slanted to higher income Syrians. The results of this survey embarrassed the Assad regime. It seems likely a more representative survey would have been an even greater embarrassment to the regime.

The public opinion survey was repeated in August 2011. Similar questions were asked to 2010, with the addition of some reflecting the Syrian Revolution. Optimism was in the air, with 92% of participants expecting the political situation in Syria to improve in the future. 81.8% felt that democracy in Syria was currently bad or very bad. 85.3% felt human rights in Syria were bad or very bad. 67.4% felt democracy is preferable to any other form of government. 82.6% felt Bashar Assad’s performance as president was poor or very poor. 82% of participants supported the peaceful revolution that began in March 2011. 87.1% wanted the Assad regime to leave power.

[Survey Finding: Syria 2011 Public Opinion Survey, Angela Hawken, Jonathan Kulick et al, Pepperdine University, Report Prepared For Democracy Council Of California, 9th September 2011]

Due to the security situation the number of participants was lower at 551. Access to the internet among participants was 76.9% this time. The argument that this survey represented a wealthier than average segment of Syrian society, more likely to support the elitist Assad regime, is stronger. Therefore the percentage of Syrians wanting the Assad regime to leave power was probably even greater than 87%.

Finding comparison polls has been very difficult. The Qatar Silatech organisation, conducted a poll in partnership with Gallup in 2009, “The Silatech Index: Voices of Young Arabs”, that covered 20 MENA countries including Syria. According to their report:

“Training: Traditionally, Gallup selects local partners who have experience in nationwide public opinion studies. In locations where public opinion polling is a relatively new research activity (for example, Yemen and Syria), extensive training is used to ensure local partners are adequately prepared for the polling work. Gallup conducts in-depth training sessions with local field staff prior to the start of data collection. Topics covered in training include household selection, respondent selection, correct administering of the questionnaire, and other field quality procedures. The training sessions provide examples of best practices and standards required to ensure high quality when data are collected.” [page 124 “The Silatech Index: Voices of Young Arabs”, June 2009]

So data collection is not done by Gallup directly, but relies on local partners. Who this is in the case of Syria is not reported. The Syrian board member of Silatech is Nabil Kuzbari. He has close connections to the Assad clique. US embassy cables leaked by Wikileaks, show that Kuzbari “played an important role in encouraging several European politicians to establish closer ties with Assad”, and was “using his business and banking connections abroad to transfer the president’s assets outside the country” []. It seems very unlikely that “local partners” in Syria would collect data that embarrassed the Assad regime, even if they appeared to be following Gallup’s methodology. According to the section of the report on Syria in 2009:

38% of Syrian youth said 2009 was a good time to find a job. 47% were satisfied with attempts to create high quality jobs, but 49% said they could not afford important job training. 62% said that corruption in business was widespread. No one asked them about government corruption. 71% said “those responsible for their society’s progress maximize the potential of youth in the country”. 67% said children and young people were treated with dignity and respect. According to this report, compared to Egypt and other Levant countries, Syria came first. [pages 34-35, 106-109, “The Silatech Index: Voices of Young Arabs”, June 2009]

The section of this report on Syria is a devious farce.

Polls are important because they expose the level of need for representative government, in countries where elections are manipulated by the ruling elites. Since 2011 an army of apologists for the Assad regime from the left and right have appeared in the Western media, all arguing that Bashar Assad’s state propaganda is true, and that he is wildly popular. They then argue that the Syrian Revolution is a fake, and the West should avoid giving any help to the opposition.

Ambitious journalists and even some academics, have a long and tainted tradition of writing “puff pieces” for dictators, in the Western media. Dr Tim Anderson, a lecturer in political economy at Sydney University, has written an influential book “Dirty War On Syria (2016)”, the book’s introduction states:
“The Dirty War on Syria has relied on a level of mass disinformation not seen in living memory. In seeking regime change the big powers sought to hide their hand, using proxy armies of Islamists, demonising the Syrian Government and constantly accusing it of atrocities. In this way Syrian President Bashar al Assad, a mild-mannered eye doctor, became the new evil in the world. The popular myths of this dirty war that it is a civil war, a popular revolt or a sectarian conflict hide a murderous spree of regime change across the region. The attack on Syria was a necessary consequence of Washington s ambition, stated openly in 2006, to create a New Middle East. After the destruction of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, Syria was next in line.”

Dr Anderson reported a Doha Debate survey on Assad’s presidency in an earlier article on the same subject, “America’s Dirty War on Syria: Bashar al Assad and Political Reform” in 2015:

“A poll in late 2011, funded by Bashar’s enemies in Qatar and so certainly biased, showed that a majority outside Syria wanted the Syrian President to resign because of ‘the regime’s brutal treatment of protestors’. However, and more importantly, it also showed that 51% of Syrians wanted Assad to stay (Doha Debates 2011). When a poll run by an enemy says this we should take notice.” []

In reality a television Doha Debate “This house believes that President Bashar al-Assad must resign” in November 2011, was voted for by 91% of the audience. This was followed up a regional internet based poll commissioned in December 2011 by Doha Debates from “YouGov Siraj”. 1000 people from 18 countries were asked “in your opinion should Syria’s President Assad resign?” 81% said he should go. In Syria there were only 98 respondents, and 55% said he should stay. Comparing this to the Democracy Council guerrilla polling above, this Yougov internet survey is extremely unreliable. Internet penetration in Syria was low, and the minimum sample size should be a thousand for an individual country. [see]

Dr Anderson analysis of this poll is shallow. He misses a fundamental dynamic in describing Qatar’s ruling elite as an enemy of the Assad regime in 2011. The reality was more nuanced and fluid than this, as the Gulf monarchies sought to influence the Assad regime away from Iran and failed. His “America’s Dirty War on Syria” article then mentions two articles by journalists, which mention off hand comments exaggerating Assad’s popularity.

The only other study mentioned is “An internal NATO study in 2013 also estimated that 70% of Syrians supported the President, 20% were neutral and 10% supported the ‘rebels’ (World Tribune 2013)”. This appeared in the US “World Tribune” on 31st May 2013, and relies on unnamed sources at Nato who reported the conclusions of an unseen report to Middle East Newsline. According to the World Tribune article:
“The sources said no formal polling was taken in Syria, racked by two years of civil war in which 90,000 people were reported killed. They said the data came from a range of activists and independent organizations that were working in Syria, particularly in relief efforts. The data was relayed to NATO as the Western alliance has been divided over whether to intervene in Syria.” []

I have not seen any further evidence that this Nato report existed, let alone any information about the quality of the sources. It appears to be little more than hearsay, but is very popular with apologists for the Assad regime.

According to Dr Anderson “The June 2014 Presidential elections were the most authoritative indication of support for Bashar al Assad.” According to the regime, Bashar Assad received 88.7% of the vote, and the turnout was 73.4% of the all eligible voters. There is no reason to believe this election was anymore legitimate than all the previous rigged elections in the Assad era.

Dr Anderson’s Distorted History of the Syrian Revolution

The history of the Assad regime given in the first section of Dr Anderson’s “America’s Dirty War on Syria” article is a straightforward distortion. The technique is used of reversing causality to paint the regime as always responding to terrorist conspiracy (ironically this is a prominent Zionist propaganda technique). The article starts with a contradiction, he rightly states that sovereignty belongs to the Syrian people, but admits the regime he is defending is a one party authoritarian state.

Dr Anderson’s history of the first decade of Bashar Assad’s rule after 2000, casually brushes over the crackdown after the Damascus Spring, in which he says “some of the prisoners were reported as tortured and killed “.

His scholarship fails in describing the “National Salvation Front”, it was not Islamist as he describes, and differed from the Damascus Declaration in that it called explicitly for the peaceful removal of Assad. Dr Anderson talks up the struggles within the Damascus Declaration group over unity. Assad adopted endless delay because he did not face any serious threat to his regime. A popular front was difficult to establish because tactual options were limited, and were not acceptable to all groups.

He states “The Government also moved against some of the signatories [of the Damascus Declaration].” In fact twelve of the founding members were arrested by the regime in late 2007, and only released after a long international campaign.

He then makes some absurd “causality reversing” claims that the Muslim Brotherhood were mainly responsible for the brutality of the security forces of the Assad dictatorship. He says “They [Syrian Muslim Brotherhood] had sat in the Syrian parliament in the 1950s but, since then a fair amount of Syrian authoritarianism has had to do with suppressing their sectarian insurrections, including assassinations and massacres”. In fact the Baathist coup in 1963 lead to the suppression of all opposing voices in Syria, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Dr Anderson completely airbrushes out the violent repression by the Assad regime of peaceful demonstrations in March 2011. He says only that there was a “burst of political activity” at this time, with opposition groups divided over supporting the government. He boldly states: “What became known in western circles as ‘the opposition’ were mostly exiles and the Islamists who had initiated the violence.” According to Anderson the Muslim Brotherhood then took over the Syrian Revolution, and “By 2013, however, what remained of the LCCs [secular local coordination committees] seemed well embedded with Islamist armed groups, mainly reporting on their casualties”.

His history of the Syrian opposition is seriously deficient. Most of the signatories of the Damascus Declaration joined the Syrian National Council (SNC) when it was formed as a government in exile in August 2011. In November 2012 the Syrian Opposition formed a broader umbrella group the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (confusingly known as the Syrian National Coalition). This included the groups that had expanded inside Syria, the civilian Local Coordination Committees and the Free Syrian Army. The Syrian National Council then left the coalition again in January 2014, because it insisted on a harder line on Assad, who they insisted should step down before any peace talks (in particular “Geneva II Conference on Syria” in January 2014).

The Syrian Opposition have suffered from serious disunity. There are the inevitable pressures of forming a popular front, with divisions of class, race, religion, belief (secular-religious) and location (rural-urban). There are the generational differences, because opposition to the Baathist dictatorship goes back to the 1960s. The Assad regime presents specific problems to any opposition, due to its essential brutal and repressive mentality, assistance from reactionary regional powers and international superpowers, together with the power of its security forces. There were therefore divisions between those who advocated working from within the Syrian government, those who sought to persuade the so called “international community” to provide external help, and those who sought Sunni Islamic religious solidarity. These are arguments of desperation, and the Syrian Revolution has shown that none of them are potential solutions. The continuation of the Assad regime or the violence of the Syrian Crisis are also not solutions. Currently there is no solution.

Dr Anderson (and the army of Assad apologists) brush over the struggle facing the opposition, and present them as having no possibility of shared goals. He even attempts to stir up Islamophobic hype, he writes in his “America’s Dirty War On Syria” article: “Hassan Mneimneh, for the Washington-based ‘Brussels Forum’, noted the real fears in the region of an ‘Islamist winter’, as the Arab Spring had handed the Islamists ‘an unexpected, maybe undeserved, victory’.”

Actually Mneimneh’s article gives informed and convincing reasons why the “Islamist Winter” fear is superficial, and does not ascribe it to fears in the “region” as Anderson asserts. Often in radical revisionist articles on the Middle East, intended for consumption by Western audiences, by both the extreme left and right, you will find numerous references to sources, which on inspection contradict the article’s case. The loss of a few readers willing to research them, is more than overcome by the majority who assume their validity, and pass the articles on as valid to social media. Mneimneh’s March 2012 article is actually highly informative, and provides an education for readers tempted to embrace Dr Anderson’s hard-left faux radicalism:

“Prior to the rise of Islamism in the 1980s, Arab political culture had endured three successive grand narratives: paternalistic (elite) liberalism from the 1920s into the 1940s, populist nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s, and revolutionary leftism in the 1970s. None succeeded in delivering promised justice and development. By the early 1980s, instead, an Arab political order of kleptocratic tyrannies coalesced, ruling by intimidation and fear, and reducing much of the population to despair. Islamism — the conceptualization of Islam as the framework that ought to shape or dictate political and social institutions — evolved as the discourse of dissent and opposition against regimes that relied on the receding grand narratives for their legitimacy.” []

Mneimneh goes on to describe Islamism as a protest ideology, with many fluid strands, little substance and an uncertain connection to wider Islam. He identifies the “expansion and integration” of the Arab speaking cultural space in the 1990s and 2000s (through growth satellite television and the internet) as an important factor often ignored by the Western commentators. The article’s argument is summarised:

“To talk of an ‘Islamist Winter’ is premature, even erroneous. Rather than an expansion and consolidation of Islamist doctrine, the Arab Spring is seemingly prompting both divergences within Islamism and the retreat of its radical wing to social conservatism. The liberal challenge to Islamism will continue to reshape it. A redefined Islamism may even attempt to claim large parts of the liberal program, at the exclusion of the social and cultural issues that in fact constitute the protective core for a sustainable democracy. In the crucial battle of the portrayal of the political problématique, the importance of identifying the electoral victories as a success for Islamists, not a success for Islamism, is vital for liberal propositions that have been able to affect the substance of the public discussion but are yet to find powerful proponents for their own viability. In many ways, political culture in the Arab world is fueled by feedback loops through which standing and power are amplified by claims of even greater standing and power. The formulations by the Western media, academy, and world of politics are often recycled into this loop.” []

This summary is the opposite of what Dr Anderson claims that this article actually says, which matters because he references it as an important support for his case.

In plain language in this summary, Mneimneh is saying that the Arab Spring has shown that the radical wing of Islamism has not been able to win or sustain popular support, as increased regimentation does not fit with the popular revolt against authoritarianism. The liberal programme Mneimneh describes as “democracy, development, citizen empowerment, transparency, and pluralism”. Islamism’s core adherence to social and cultural conservatism (rather than political or economic conservatism) is problematic because this can be misused as a justification for censorship and a distraction from deeper issues, which then undermines democracy. Mneimneh concludes that liberals should not obsess about the rise of Islamism, but engage with the substance of public discussion. “The formulations by the Western media, academy, and world of politics” can play a constructive part in this discussion.

Assad Regime Genocide Denial by the Reactionary Hard-Left

Dr Anderson as our exemplar of the reactionary hard-left, highlights the barbarism of the Assad regime since the 2011 revolution, by his criminal denial of the regime’s genocide against Syrians. According to the apologists all major atrocities carried by the Assad regime either did not happen, were legitimate or were committed by the Syrian Opposition as “false flag” operations. In his article “America’s Dirty War on Syria: Bashar al Assad and Political Reform” in 2015 Dr Anderson says:

“The August 2013 chemical weapons incident in East Ghouta was widely blamed on the Assad Government. Yet all independent evidence exposed this as yet another ‘false flag’. I document the propaganda surrounding these atrocities in Chapters Eight and Nine [of the forthcoming book ‘Dirty War On Syria’].” []

Actually on the 21st August 2013, two opposition controlled areas in the Ghouta suburbs around Damascus were attacked by rockets containing Sarin nerve gas, over 1000 civilians mostly women and children were killed. Investigations showed that a weapons grade nerve agent was used, which was delivered by a specially designed rocket system, allegedly only available to the Assad regime. Only the Assad and Putin regimes maintain this was a “false flag” attack. This was exactly a year and a day since President Obama warned the Assad regime in a White House press conference on August 20th 2010, “…. that a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized …. would change my calculus …. would change my equation.” This was a calculated act of contempt that lead to no consequences.

He makes a more assertive claim in another in 2015, “The Dirty War on Syria: Barrel Bombs, Partisan Sources and War Propaganda”:

“In the case of Washington’s claims about the August 2013 chemical weapons attack in East Ghouta, the US Government and some of its embedded agencies attempted to use telemetry and some other circumstantial evidence to implicate the Syrian Army (Gladstone and Chivers 2013; HRW 2013). However, after those claims were destroyed by a range of independent evidence (Lloyd and Postol 2014; Hersh 2014; Anderson 2015), Washington and its media periphery simply kept repeating the same discredited accusations. In the climate of war, few were bold enough to say that the emperor ‘had no clothes’.” []

The sources he quotes for destroying the claim that the Assad regime were responsible for the East Ghouta sarin attack do not support his claim. He references himself and an Assad apologist journalist Seymour Hersh. The “Lloyd and Postol 2014” link refers to a report by the respected MIT science professor Theodore Postol. The report actually examines a limited amount of the evidence about the missiles used to launch the attack, and concludes they could not have been fired from the alleged location. Comparison of range and frontlines at the time, do not mean that they could not have been fired from Assad regime controlled territory. The report has nothing to say about the large quantity and type of weapons grade sarin used in the attack, which was only available to the Assad regime. []

A Syrian military police photographer codenamed “Caesar” started copying photographs of the dead from two military hospitals in Damascus in September 2011. He smuggled out 53275 photographs when he defected in August 2013. The military hospital morgues processed civilians killed by the security forces, as well as dead soldiers. Human Rights Watch received a full set of the photographs. A forensic assessment showed that 6786 were civilian detainees killed by the security forces. They compared reported conditions of detention and torture in Syria to the corpses.

“ ‘We have no doubt that the people shown in the Caesar photographs were starved, beaten, and tortured in a systematic way, and on a massive scale,’ Houry said. ‘These photographs represent just a fraction of people who have died while in Syrian government custody – thousands more are suffering the same fate’. “ []
By December 2015 the Syrian Network for Human Rights had documented the arrest and detention of more than 117,000 people in Syria since March 2011.

Dr Anderson comments on the Caesar photographs in article from 15 October 2015, “The Dirty War on Syria: Barrel Bombs, Partisan Sources and War Propaganda”:

“For the same reason, when the Qatari monarchy (which has invested billions of dollars in the armed attacks on Syria) presents an anonymous, paid witness ‘Caesar’, with photos of numerous dead and tortured bodies, blaming the Syrian Army for ‘industrial scale killing’ (O’Toole 2014; Jalabi 2015), it should be plain that that ‘evidence’ is partisan and unreliable (Smith-Spark 2014; MMM 2014). The fact that this story was presented by a belligerent party just before a Geneva peace conference should give further cause for suspicion. But without genuinely independent evidence to corroborate the witness we have no way of verifying in which year, circumstance or even which country the photos were taken. Those who finance and arm the sectarian groups have slaughtered hundreds of thousands in recent years, in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. There is no shortage of photos of dead bodies. The fact that western media sources run these accusations, using lawyers (also paid by Qatar) to provide ‘bootstrap’ support (Cartalucci 2014; Murphy 2014), merely shows their limited understanding of independent evidence.” []

Dr Anderson’s accusation is that the photographs were faked for profit. Only three of the sources he references are from genuine journalists rather than blogsites (like this one). Dr Anderson confuses the photographs validity with the validity of a report partly funded by Qatar (according to CNN = Smith-Spark 2014). The CNN article he references, actually reports the opinions of the Assad regime that the report is partisan and unreliable.

He then goes on to standard “whataboutism”, which goes to core of the rottenness of contemporary radical “progressive” politics. In reality all MENA and superpower elites are responsible for sectarian chaos and violence in the Middle East, which for them is a mutually beneficial system that harms ordinary people. His Christian Science Monitor link (Cartalucci 2014) urges caution in the treatment of the Qatar report. Dr Anderson ignores more considered reports on the Caesar photographs than the 2014 part Qatar funded “Caesar Report” (to be fair the particular Human Rights Watch report appeared after Dr Anderson’s internet article was written, which could then have been revised).

The Reality of the Assad Regime’s Genocidal War Against Syrians

The Syrian Network Of Human Rights (SNHR) was set up in 2011. There objectives are: “SNHR believes that the main goal for documenting the violations in Syria is to preserve the victims’ rights and hold the criminals accountable for the sake of fulfilling justice in addition to deter those who are thinking of perpetrating similar criminals, support the path of transitional justice, memorialize the memories of the victims, and contribute to the political and social advocacy process.” [] In May 2016 SNHR had 25 full time workers and 70 volunteers working across Syria and neighbouring countries.

The Syrian Network Of Human Rights has analysed statistics for causalities from 2011 to October 2015, the Assad regime is responsible for 95% of civilian deaths (which is 179291 people), 97% of civilian deaths by torture (which is 11501 people), 93% of medical staff deaths (531 people) and 95% of enforced disappearances (67659 people) [see]. By June 2016 the regime was responsible for 11 out of 14 areas besieged, and had caused 98% of deaths due to siege (786 people), the regime and its allies had caused 17145 deaths due to bombing on besieged areas, and had carried out at least 70 chemical attacks [see].

Looking at the causes of death recorded on the Syrian Violations Centre in Syria database, then between February 2011 and February 2017: shelling (32.4%), aerial bombing (27.4%), 19.7% shooting, execution (11%), death by torture 7.2%, other 1.4%, chemical 1%.

According to Dr Anderson in “The Dirty War on Syria: Barrel Bombs, Partisan Sources and War Propaganda”:

“Perhaps the most common and profound error of the western media, reporting on the Syrian crisis, has been the extraordinary reliance on a single person, a man based in Britain who calls himself the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Many of the stories about Syrian body counts, ‘regime’ atrocities and huge collateral damage come from this man. Yet Rami Abdul Rahman has always flown the flag of the Muslim Brotherhood led ‘Free Syrian Army’ on his website (SOHR 2015).” []

This inaccurate statement is undermined by the reality of the large and diverse Syrian opposition effort to professionally document causalities in the Syrian Crisis. According to Anderson all the armed Syrian Opposition are extremist Islamists who have activists “embedded” with them, that are helping to create false causality statistics . Apparently barrel bombs are acceptable weapons, which the Assad regime air-force are not using randomly to kill and terrorise civilians. Dr Anderson then slightly contradicts himself, by acknowledging the diversity of causality statistics:

“Casualty numbers are typically provided by the British-based ‘Syrian Observatory on Human Rights’ (SOHR 2015), the British-based Syrian Network for Human Rights (SN4HR 2015), or the Istanbul-based Violation Documentation Center in Syria (VDC 2015; Masi 2015). All these centres are allied to the Islamist gangs, but usually maintain some public distance from ISIL.” []

He repeats stories about the few cases where human rights groups have made mistakes (later corrected) to argue that all their reports are propaganda. This technique is used repeatedly in apologist literature, the most common instance being the Kuwait Incubator Amnesty case. A careful investigation of this meme, shows that the Kuwaiti monarchy were promoting information about Iraqi army atrocities and in some cases exaggerating them. Medical staff in a Kuwaiti hospital fled in terror from Iraqi forces, and babies in incubators died as a result, rather than direct action by the soldier removing them from incubators. Amnesty reported the exaggerated story, and then issued a correction. This nuanced reality about the details of one incident are brushed over by apologist propaganda.

Dr Anderson finishes this article on: “So while genuine students of the crisis must revert to principled study of claims and counter-claims, we should also recognise this industrial scale propaganda machine, which is likely to maintain its production into the foreseeable future.” []

If such an industrial anti Assad propaganda machine was producing stories about Assad regime extensive genocidal atrocities that did not exist, then how could this hoax be maintained for over five years? There are a handful of well-known journalists who have taken a pro Assad stance, the most infamous is Robert Fisk. If such a hoax existed, then at the beginning you could expect a few journalists to break ranks and expose the fraud. If this was justified then this exposure would be taken up by the rest of the media. Pro Assad well known journalists or academics for that case, remain a select eccentric group. In addition there is the information about the brutal repressive authoritarianism of the regime that goes back to the 1970s, that contradicts the grand hoax theory of Dr Anderson.

The hoax theory would also have to explain the extensive destruction in urbans areas held by the Syrian Opposition that are evident from satellite imagery. The idea that the “Islamist Gangs” as the apologists like to characterise the armed Syrian Opposition, blew up their own buildings on an industrial scale in part of a “grand hoax” seems crazed. Similarity the idea that the armed Syrian Opposition terrorised millions of Syrians to become refuges in neighbouring countries, surely would have led to thousands of world media interviews from refugee camps exposing this crime. At this point the apologists desperately attempt to conflate ISIL with the armed Syrian Opposition, as refugees do report fleeing ISIL. There is a clear division between ISIL and the Armed Syrian opposition, which is endlessly confirmed by many sources on the ground. This apologist blurring of Islamist with ISIL only works with the almost totally uninformed.

The last line of defence is to claim it is absurd that the Assad regime would attack its own people. Dr Anderson even claims a source referring to Bashar Assad as “Mr Soft”. The reason is the same as it has been since 1970 to rule Syria mainly by terror. Indiscriminate bombing, sniping and shelling creates terror. Assad does not have enough Syrians loyal to him to suppress the Syrian Revolution, and has had to scour the region for Shiite Militias. The strategy has been to encircle areas, and then starve and terrorise. The result is that rebel areas can be cleansed of dissent, as populations are forced to flee. They can then attempt to leave the country as refugees across often closed borders, or move to regime areas if not known activists where they are safe from regime bombing and starvation at least.



Assad is not Syria. Part 3: 2000 to 2010 a wasted decade of chances to avoid disaster.


[Previous Part 2] See:

Assad is not Syria. Part 3: 2000 to 2010 a wasted decade of chances to avoid disaster.

By lara keller (last updated 18th May 2017)

Hafez Assad won an astonishing 99.9% of the votes in the December 1991 presidential referendum. The breakup of the Soviet Union meant Hafez was forced to make diplomatic ties with Western countries, and to lessen the excesses of his repressive regime. Unexpectedly in 1994 his eldest son Bassel died after driving into a barrier at high speed in fog. Hafez suffered from heart disease, and although his apologists denied it, the Assad dynasty needed a successor.

This fell on the less dynamic, less outwardly dominant, ophthalmologist Bashar Assad. He was much less popular within the regime’s macho inner security clique. He was put in charge of an anti-corruption campaign, which targeted the business interests of those who had fallen out of favour, for other reasons. In particular Rifaat Assad, the exiled butcher of Hama, who made a disastrous move towards power in mid 1980s, and was attempting to position himself to replace Hafez.

In 2000 after the death of 69 year old Hafez, and a convenient change in the constitution, the 34 year old Bashar became president. In a subsequent national presidential plebiscite Bashar received 99.7% of the votes on a 95% turnout. Some voters even amplified their show of loyal enthusiasm by marking their voting cards with their own blood.

Bashar who had also been put in charge of introducing the internet to Syria, was seen wishfully by the West as a moderniser. In July 2000 John Daniszewski of the LA Times was one of the few Western journalists to expose the reality, in an eerily accurate article:

“But just because people don’t express their thoughts freely doesn’t mean they’re content. In fact, a growing mood of frustration and hopelessness inside Syria could be one of the most important problems for the untested Assad when he formally assumes the post his father held for 30 years until his death last month. On one hand, some of the brightest minds needed to resuscitate the Syrian economy are leaving, and on the other, a sullen, dissatisfied population could be the seed of popular unrest against what has become the Assad dynasty……………………

At the apartment outside the capital, a woman confronts a foreign journalist. Why, she asks, did Western television stations report on Assad’s death as though the Syrian people were truly sad? ‘Are they stupid, that they actually believe that?’ she asked. ‘The truest or most genuine thing that happened is that many, many people did not go for the funeral,’ she asserted…………………

According to several members of Syria’s ‘lost generation’–those who lived their entire lives under Hafez Assad’s iron fisted rule–they have little faith that his son will bring any real improvement to their lives. ‘Most of my friends, 60% or so, are thinking of leaving the country, because to try to do a commercial project here is hopeless,’ says a computer engineer. ‘Only someone close to the government can make profits, not normal people.’ The intellectual says he has little hope for Bashar Assad. ‘No matter what he intends to implement, the only real change would be to change the whole [clique] that has been running the country, which is not possible,’ he says. ‘They will not permit it.’ As he puts it, those who are in power do not want reform. And those who want reform have no power…………………

The intellectual says he felt insulted by how quickly foreigners welcomed and embraced his country’s new strongman. ‘There is a huge responsibility that must be borne by America for keeping these corrupt regimes in power all over the region,’ he complained. For years, Syrians had lived with the fear that the death of the elder Assad could mean civil war and bloodshed. But many had also become resigned to prolonged stagnation of their country as long as Assad was alive. Now their fear of instability is at odds with the desire for change.”


Hafez Assad had created a regime that narrowed power in Syria to a small clique. Bashar Assad’s rule was insecure, so he narrowed this clique further to members of the Assad family clan.

It was a cousin Atef Najib whose psychopathic arrogance sparked the Syrian Revolution. In March 2011 he was security chief in Deraa, when 15 teenage boys were arrested and badly tortured for spraying “the people want to topple the regime, it’s your turn next doctor” on a school wall. When relatives went to demand the release of the children, Atef Najib is alleged to have said “men go home and have new children, and if any of you lack the virility to do so, send your wives to my office and I will ensure they leave pregnant”. A statement that encapsulates the contempt, brutality and sheer gangsterism of the ruling Syrian clique. Atef was never punished naturally.

In the same city in April 2011, 13 year old Hamza al-Khateeb was tortured to death by Air Force Intelligence, his mutilated body was returned a month later:

“His jaw and both kneecaps had been smashed. His flesh was covered with cigarette burns. His penis had been cut off. Other injuries appeared to be consistent with the use of electroshock devices and being whipped with a cable.” []

According to the Syrian state broadcaster SANA, Hamza was a jihadist killed by the regime whose body had been given the marks of torture after death. No one was punished. In 1969 the Baathist Government passed a farcical law, still in force, saying that the security services could not be prosecuted for any crime, without their permission.

Bashar Assad had continued the brutal regime set up by his father. It is difficult to believe, that many progressives in the West still give credence to Assad apologists’ fantasises about this regime.

In Bashar Assad’s inauguration speech on July 17th 2000 contains a high degree of revealing arrogant and impractical double speak, which should have been a warning to any Western optimist. He says:

“To what extent are we democratic? And what are the indications that refer to the existence or non-existence of democracy? Is it in elections or in the free press or in the free speech or in other freedoms and rights? Democracy is not any of these because all these rights and others are not democracy, rather they are democratic practices and results of these practices which all depend on democratic thinking. This thinking is based on the principle of accepting the opinion of the other and this is certainly a two-way street. It means that what is a right for me is a right for others, but when the road becomes a one-way road it will become selfish. This means that we do not say I have the right to this or that; rather we should say that others have certain rights and if others enjoy this particular right I have the same right. This means that democracy is our duty towards others before it becomes a right for us. ”


This translates to, the Syrian people must respect the corrupt administration, and earn the right to representative government by proving a collective responsibility that far exceeds that of the regime. This is the self-justifying logic chopping of a gangster mentality. He then goes on to explain his often repeated mantra that Syria is not ready for democracy, in the best tradition of colonialists and neo-colonialists everywhere he says:

“Western democracy, for example, is the outcome of a long history that resulted in customs and traditions which distinguish the current culture of Western societies. In order to apply what they have we have to live their history with all its social signification. As this is, obviously, impossible we have to have our democratic experience which is special to us, which stems from our history, culture, civilization and which is a response to the needs of our society and the requirements of our reality.”

There is some truth to Bashar Assad’s statement, in that forms of representative government will differ according to circumstances in particular countries at certain times. But he repeats the right wing Western conception that democracy in the West is due mainly to culture. In reality it had a lot to do with the threat of revolution, manpower needed for colonial wars and the aggressive nationalism of two world wars. The grip of Western elites were loosened when they were forced to engage with the majority of the population to avoid revolution, desertion or invasion. This in turn was a product of less advanced weaponry, which meant that the sheer number of troops was more important than it is now.

There are basic requirements of any representative system which Assad ignores in a long waffle bound speech:

“We have to start immediately to prepare the studies which ensure the change of this reality to the better through improving the administrative systems and their frameworks, through increasing the level of efficiency of the administrative and professional cadres and through putting an end to the state of carelessness, passiveness and evasion of carrying out one’s duty. There is no escape from bringing the careless, the corrupt and the evil doers to justice. This also requires the improvement of the accountability apparatus in the country in order to make it more effective and to support it with the appropriate resources. Here comes the importance of the energized role of your Parliament in correcting the work of different institutions through pointing to the points of weakness and inefficiency and following up the process of correcting it in a positive way. I would also like to stress here the important role of the judicial system and the necessity to support it with the clean and efficient cadres so that it may play its full role in order to achieve justice and guard the freedoms of citizens and the proper implementation of laws. From what has preceded we can notice that the work of institutions is closely linked, the fact that requires also a close link between the mind that governs and organizes the work of each institution such as the institutional mentality, the democratic mentality and transparency that starts in the home and grows or recedes through the circumstances of daily life.”

Bashar states the obvious that parliament and the courts must ensure corruption, oppression and inefficacy are dealt with effectively. He neglects to say this cannot be achieved because the members of parliament and judges are not freely elected or even protected under the Assad regime. There is no free press to tell the people if parliament or the courts are corrupt. These features are fundamental to the working of any representative system, and not just Western democracy.

“Society is the fertile soil in which we sow our seeds; as for the fruits we reap in institutions. Hence, the better the seeds we sow the better and fresher the fruits we reap. The task of the state is to prepare the suitable and appropriate ground for the seeds to grow. It also has to provide the best circumstances for this growth and to guarantee that the fruits remain fresh (which is the most important stage) so that our society may benefit from them; otherwise they will go off and become rotten and a source of illness and disease.”


Bashar shifts the responsibility away from the authoritarian clique who have ruled the country with absolute control, to ordinary people who must work on a “democratic mentality” in the “home”. This speech indicates the empty pious hypocrisy of Bashar Assad. It is worth looking at in detail, because it was a clear message that hope in the new president was wasted. It managed to reassure both the West and the Syrian elite in radically different ways, according to how deeply it was examined.

A “Damascus Spring” followed Bashar Assad’s inauguration. Informal groups began meeting privately, and even sometimes publically in cafes, to discuss political reform. Hundreds of political prisoners were released. The notorious Mazzeh prison in Damascus was closed in November 2000. This stopped abruptly in August 2001 with a clamp down on activists and journalists. Bashar never had any intention of reforming the Syrian dictatorship, and those within the inner clique had no intention of allowing him to lessen their access to the benefits of gross economic corruption that now stretched from Syria to Lebanon.

In 2003 the cynical and destructive invasion of Iraq by the USA had removed the equally repressive Baathist dictator Sadam Hussein. A bloody civil war then erupted between the previously favoured Sunni minority backed by the Saudis, and the Iranian backed Shia majority. This chaos was due to intentional negligence by the Americans. They shunned the Iraqi democratic opposition, and did nothing to empower an effective security force to replace the old regime. The goal was the theft of oil reserves, by the establishment of a new more pliable US friendly dictatorship. Bashar Assad responded to the US invasion of neighbouring Iraq by cynically enabling the flow of Sunni jihadists into the country. Ring wing apologists for Assad forget that there are thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of US soldiers who died due to Bashar Assad’s policy. A similar tactic has been used by the regime to enable so called “Islamic States (IS)” during the current Syrian Crisis. A policy that has resulted in thousands of deaths in Syria and terrorist attacks in the West.

In February 2005 a successful and popular movement to remove Syrian troops and security forces from Lebanon erupted. The Lebanese Independence Intifada or Cedar Revolution, erupted after the Assad regime assassinated Rafik Hariri. He was a popular Saudi backed Sunni politician who had been forced out of power the previous year by the Assad regime.

After consolidating his rule, Bashar Assad cautiously embarked an increased liberalisation of the economy. His father had already largely created a crony capitalist state by privatizing Syria’s economy in the 1990s. According to the gradualist US academic economist Bassam Haddad in “Syria Regime’s business Backbone” in the spring 2012 MERP journal:

“By the late 1990s, the business community that the Asads had created in their own image had transformed Syria from a semi-socialist state into a crony capitalist state par excellence. The economic liberalization that started in 1991 had redounded heavily to the benefit of tycoons who had ties to the state or those who partnered with state officials. The private sector outgrew the public sector, but the most affluent members of the private sector were state officials, politicians and their relatives. The economic growth registered in the mid-1990s was mostly a short-lived bump in consumption, as evidenced by the slump at the end of the century. Growth rates that had been 5-7 percent fell to 1-2 percent from 1997 to 2000 and beyond.

After Bashar al-Asad succeeded his father in 2000, the architects of Syria’s economic policy sought to reverse the downturn by liberalizing the economy further, for instance by reducing state subsidies. Private Banks were permitted for the first time in nearly 40 years and a stock market was on the drawing board.

After 2005, the state-business bonds were strengthened by the announcement of the Social Market Economy, a mixture of state and market approaches that ultimately privileged the market, but a market without robust institutions or accountability. Again, the regime had consolidated its alliance with big business at the expense of smaller businesses as well as the Syrian majority who depended on the state for services, subsidies and welfare. It had perpetuated cronyism, but dressed it in new garb. Families associated with the regime in one way or another came to dominate the private sector, in addition to exercising considerable control over public economic assets. These clans include the Asads and Makhloufs, but also the Shalish, al-Hassan, Najib, Hamsho, Hambouba, Shawkat and al-As‘ad families, to name a few. The reconstituted business community, which now included regime officials, close supporters and a thick sliver of the traditional bourgeoisie, effected a deeper (and, for the regime, more dangerous) polarization of Syrian society along lines of income and region.” []

The US academic Joshua Landis paints a similar picture of the history of the Syrian economy in “The Syrian Uprising of 2011: Why the Asad Regime Is Likely to Survive to 2013” in the MEPC journal:

“Syria met the challenge to liberalize later and more hesitantly than most Middle Eastern states. Bashar al-Asad’s efforts to open up the Syrian economy and copy the ‘China mode’ were bolder than his father’s during the 1990s but remained hobbled by half measures and caution. All the same, he introduced private banking, insurance companies and liberalized real-estate laws. He dropped tariff barriers with neighboring states, licensed private schools, and permitted use of the Internet in an effort to encourage private and foreign investment.

But, even as Asad sought to boost private initiative, he feared its results. To avoid the emergence of a capitalist class that would be largely Sunni and not beholden to the regime, Asad turned to his cousin Rami Makhlouf, who became ‘Mr. Ten Percent’ of the Syrian economy. He assumed a majority stake in many major enterprises and holding companies and ensured that the Asad family maintained control over the economy. Office holders at every rank of the state bureaucracy replicated this model of crony capitalism, exemplified by the presidential family. A new class of businessmen drawn from the progeny of major regime figures — called the ‘sons of power’ (abna al-sulta) — has become notorious for its wealth and economic assertiveness. The result has been an explosion of corruption and public resentment at the growing inequality and injustice of Syrian life.

A new form of crony capitalism, which has failed to provide jobs or economic security to the broad masses, has replaced socialism. Growth has been skewed in favor of the wealthy. The poor, particularly the rural poor, have been abandoned. This was the social sector that provided the original base of support for the Baath party, but it is now up in arms. The wealthy have remained quiet.” []

The regime under Hafez Assad had managed to create further divisions within Syrian society, by increasing inequality and poverty, and neglecting rural areas in favour of urban development.

There were four principal factors that lead to an economic crisis in Syria before 2011

1. Increasingly unaffordable food and fuel prices. Bashar Assad’s regime slashed extensive food and fuel subsidies. At the same time the prices of these commodities were soaring globally, and national production was declining, leading to soaring inflation. As an example fuel oil prices increased by 42% between December 2008 and September 2010 as subsidises were slashed. Similarly wheat prices increased by 30% in 2010 alone.

2. Rising unemployment and population pressure. There have been very large increases in population throughout the MENA region since the Second World War. The population of Syria was 6.3 million in 1970, which rose to 20.7 million by 2010. The birth rate (total births per mother) was on a continuous downward path from 7.6 in 1970 to 3.1 by 2010. Both according to UN statistics. Hence Syria was experiencing a surge in young people needing employment. At the same time the Assad regime was opening the Syrian economy to cheaper foreign imports, while increases in investment were not making up for the job losses. The rate of unemployment and underemployment is much higher that the official Syrian CBS figures. According to the UNDP (using Syrian CBS figures) in 2007, 34% of Syrians were living in poverty, with 12% in extreme poverty. According to the ILO (using Syrian CBS figures) in 2008 11% of Syrians were unemployed, with youth unemployment at 22%. At the same time “underemployment” was estimated at 3 times the official unemployment rate, so this could have effected a third of the population.

3. Drought and dwindling oil. Agriculture in the drier semi-arid regions of Eastern Syria have always been subject to large yearly fluctuations. This feature of the climate means that some years growing any cereal crops is not possible. Drought conditions were particularly bad from 2006 to 2010, with the peak in 2007-2008. The water table had already been depleted by overuse due to government resource mismanagement. The government also slashed subsidises for fertilisers. Perhaps a million Syrians were forced to migrate to the cities, to live in breeze block slums while looking for scarce work. Global warming is a huge threat to the climate of the MENA, but it has been exaggerated to explain the current Syrian Crisis by the Assad regime and its apologists who are also green minded:

“Semi-arid areas around the Euphrates and the Khabur River, where agriculture was banned in favour of grazing, were turned into arable land used for intensive agriculture, at the cost of pumping the water table dry. The drought only brought to light a man-made disaster. And yet, the regime continues to bring diplomats to the north east and tells them it all has to do with global warming!” []

Syria’s oil production peaked at 590,000 barrels per day in 1996, but had fallen by 25% by 2005, and is on a steady decline as oil reserves are exhausted. By comparison Saudi Arabia was exporting over 9 million barrels per days in 2005.

4. Corruption. A semi socialist regime under Hafez Assad was starting to become a neo-liberal authoritarian regime under Bashar. The economy was privatised, but politics remained brutally doctorial. The combination gave rise to massive corruption. Bashar Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf is said to personally control 60% of the Syrian economy on behalf of the Assad clan. According to Transparency International “2008 Corruption Perceptions Index” Syria was the most corrupt country in MENA after Iraq. Under the name of economic liberalization, the Assad regime could use the security system to extort controlling stakes in new and privatised enterprises, block any domestic competition and shrug off the responsibility and cost of the people’s welfare.

In June 1998 a human rights group called “Article 19” published a report “WALLS OF SILENCE, Media and Censorship in Syria”. It describes the beginnings of a hopeful development in Syria:

“In November 1995, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership between the 15 countries of the European Union and 12 southern Mediterranean countries, including Syria, was established by the adoption of the Barcelona Declaration. The primary purpose of this partnership is to enhance trade, political, cultural and other relations between members but it also calls for a commitment from participants to respect fundamental human rights and freedoms. In this they are expected to:

• act in accordance with the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other obligations under international law, in particular those arising out of regional and international instruments to which they are party;

• develop the rule of law and democracy in their political systems, while recognising in this framework the right of each of them to choose and freely develop their own political, socio-cultural, economic and judicial system;

• respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and guarantee the effective legitimate exercise of such rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression, freedom of association for peaceful purposes and freedom of thought, conscience and religion, both individual and together with other members of the same group, without any discrimination on ground of race, nationality, language, religion or sex. “


This gradualist approach to reform in Syria by the European Union trading economic development for human rights, came to an end in 2005 when the Assad regime assassinated Rafik Hariri in Lebanon. Later attempts were derailed by further human right violations.
In 2005 leading Syrian opposition figures came together to join an initiative by Michael Kilo called the Damascus Declaration:

“But Kilo launched his boldest initiative in 2005 when he set out to unify Syria’s often querulous opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood. He proposed a detailed statement of unity on all the major issues facing Syria and a common platform to tackle them. Kilo wrote the first draft.

The result was the Damascus Declaration.

Syria, the Declaration warned, was at a crossroads requiring an urgent ‘rescue mission.’ In blunt language, it said the monopoly on power by an ‘authoritarian, totalitarian, and cliquish regime’ had torn apart the country’s social fabric, put it on the brink of economic collapse, and led to stifling isolation. Syria’s foreign policy was ’destructive, adventurous, and short-sighted’, especially in Lebanon.

That’s imprisonable language in Syria.

‘The present moment calls for a courageous and responsible national stand,’ the Declaration added. The proclamation represented a huge leap for Syria’s opposition. The Damascus Spring in 2001 had been about ideas of reform. The Damascus Declaration in 2005 was calling for regime change.

The five-page document, boldly unveiled at an unauthorized press conference in October 2005, laid out an alternative vision based on reform that would be ‘peaceful, gradual, founded on accord, and based on dialogue and recognition of the other.’ It acknowledged Islam as the ‘more prominent cultural component,’ but it stipulated that no party or trend could claim an exceptional position. The role of national minorities must be guaranteed, along with their cultural and linguistic rights.” [“Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East” By Robin Wright, 2008]

The regime responded by arresting and harassing signatories. Twelve of these activists were sentenced in 2008 on charges of “weakening national sentiment” and “broadcasting false or exaggerated news”. Eight of the detainees reported being beaten in detention.

Kurds in northern Syria riots were brutally suppressed by the regime that feared growing Kurdish autonomy in Iraq. The regime had created Kurdish resentment by using Arab tribes to suppress Kurds, and that 100,000s of Kurds were denied Syrian citizenship and treated like Palestinians as refugees. Thousands of Kurds were arrested and tortured by the security forces.
In 2010 Human Rights Watch released a report “A Wasted Decade, Human Rights in Syria during Bashar al-Asad’s First Ten Years in Power”, the situation between 2000 and 2010 was summarised:

“Syria’s opaque decision-making process and the lack of public information on policy debates within the regime make it very difficult to know the real reasons that drove Bashar al-Asad to loosen some of the existing restrictions early on, only to clamp down a few months later and to maintain a tight grip ever since. Was al-Asad a true reformer who did not have the capacity early in his reign to take on an entrenched ‘old guard’ that refused any political opening? If so, why has he not implemented these reforms in the ensuing years after he had consolidated his power base and named his own people to key positions? Or was al-Asad’s talk of reform a mere opportunistic act to gain popularity and legitimacy that he never intended to translate into real changes?

There is not enough publicly available information to answer these questions definitively. However, it is clear that after a decade in power, Bashar al-Asad has not taken the steps necessary to truly improve his country’s human rights record. He has focused his efforts on opening up the economy without broadening public freedoms or establishing public institutions that are accountable for their actions. So while visitors to Damascus are likely to stay in smart boutique hotels and dine in shiny new restaurants, ordinary Syrians continue to risk jail merely for criticizing their president, starting a blog, or protesting government policies.” []

[Next Part 4] See: