Sunday, March 20, 2011

What the Chattering Class is Saying about the Demonstrations in Syria

A good place to gauge the mood of Syria's internet chattering  class is the comment sections of Joshua Landis' postings on Syria Comment. The chattering class is jittery, and for good reason.  Everyone was unanimous about the fear of a descent into violence and chaos, myself included.

This jitteriness seems to have also affected the reasoned judgement of many. It has also brought to the surface the biases and paranoia of the commentators, clearly colored by each person's sectarian and class affiliation.   Conspiracies abound.  A KSA-US-Beirut conspiracy to destabilize Syria is mentioned.  Beirut? with Lebanon politically dominated by Hizballah, does anyone seriously believe that the emasculated March 14th movement is capable of inciting rebellion in Syria?  Wahhabi plots are also raised as a cause of unrest by several commentators although no one has yet raised the possibility of hallucinogenic drugs being involved!  The Daraa demonstrations were attributed to a tribe in the region with Wahhabi tendencies not the arrest of fifteen schoolboys for scribbling anti government graffiti, inspired by the images they saw of the Egyptian demonstrations. It is ironic that some of the obsessions with Wahhabis sound very much like the stuff spouted regularly by fear-mongering right-wing American neocons.

Many of the comments seem to uncover sensitive sectarian and class divides.  Officially, we all get along in Syria, and officially, it is all because of the president's stewardship. Unofficially, we do, for the most part get along, certainly much better than our neighbors to the East and to the West; not because of the president's stewardship but because of the generally tolerant predisposition of Syrians. This does not mean that there are no sectarian sensitivities or concerns and airing such concerns without prejudice or demonization of other groups is a good thing in the long run . 

There certainly is at least a grain of truth in most of the fears expressed, but many are wildly exaggerated at the expense of de-legitimizing the real grievances of ordinary Syrian citizens.  What the demonstrators want here is what other demonstrators in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain are asking for. Most of the commentators, recognize the latter grievances and yet seem to want to hang on to the status quo because they cannot see a clear road to an orderly transition.  This is largely because there are no institutions independent of the president capable of assuring an orderly transition. This is not the fault of the Syrian people, it is the fault of a regime that has not, despite being in power for a decade, made the major reforms needed to allow for the evolution from a top-down, locked-down authoritarian government to a open, representative government.  Instead of giving KSA tacit approval for sending troops to Bahrain, the president should be talking to the Egyptians and Tunisians.  


Anonymous said...

Very well written Abu Kareem...I keep admiring your courage and writings in a very modern and objective way...I am really very confused by what is happening in the Arabic world and what is the west objective in all of that!!! because it is not only the people who are playing part but it is also the west calling some big shots and giving signals! certainly there is a lot of chaos these days and I hope it ends in a good way but I don't know why and what is the end game! freedom is good for the arab world but rebelling just to change some faces and continue with the same retarded culture and rules does not achieve anything...I am just following from a distance since I am tired of following all these events...the main problem that i see is that people are happy to express themselves and call for freedom but they don't have solutions to make their societies better and no real responsible leadership, as well keeping the status quo is not acceptable (like Kadhafi in power)...unless the west is sincere in trying to reform the arab world, there is no real hope! but only more losses, which is why i am very hesitant...your old friend Fares!

Abu Kareem said...


Good to hear from you; I think it is time for you to jump back into the fray

Philip I said...

Syria Comment is certainly an interesting place. I have always thought of it as an effective mouthpiece for the Western-educated elements in the regime, painting a modern and sophisticated image of them while occasionally appearing to be mildly critical. This of course does not fool the European press but they still quote Joshua Landis as an expert on Syria.

I was intrigued when on 5 March Landis made reference to Ammar Abdelhamid's videos on YouTube ( which focused on unemployment and inner city delapidation rather than calling for a violent uprising. At about the same time we heard that Assad had approved a major housing project! The Landis site has grown into a sophisticated propaganda machine for the Assad clan that feeds positive stories to the Western press. I'm glad ordinary Syrians don't have to watch or swallow this hot air balloon as well.