Saturday, November 26, 2011

To Bashar: It is the People, Stupid...

“She complained to me that she was beaten and sexually assaulted by Central Security Forces,” Mr. Jaffar said. “But what did she expect would happen? She was in the middle of the streets, in the midst of clashes, with no press card or form of ID. The press center had not given her permission to be in the streets as a journalist. The country is in a sensitive situation. We are under threat. She could be a spy for all we know.”

Col. Islam Jaffar of the Egyptian Security Forces, acknowledging Egyptian-American journalist's Mona Eltahawy accusation. (NYT November 25, 2011).

In his brief, maddeningly callous statement Col. Jaffar's, epitomize all that is wrong and despicable in the Autocratic regimes of the Arab world. The overarching premise of all those regimes is that the average citizen is nothing more than a cog in a machine of the state serving strictly the interests of those in power. And when those cogs show signs of life and refuse to be simple inanimate objects, the leaders elevate them from inanimate objects to despicable subhuman creatures, rats (Gaddafi) or germs (Bashar), to be subjected to immediate extermination. Even when the citizens are occasionally allowed to assume human forms, they are, at the slightest hint of dissent, labeled as traitors and thus deserving the harshest of punishment. And so it is in Syria where the regime sends out it's media "shabeeha" (thugs) to declare on the air that all who go against the eternal president of Syria are traitors who deserve to die.

It is the lowly policemen or security men who beat and groped Mona and have abused and killed hundreds of other unarmed protesters in Egypt. The same holds true of the killing and mistreatment of protesters in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The real guilt, however, lies squarely on shoulders of the likes of Col. Jaffar and his superiors who in their words and actions encourage and excuse the behavior of their subordinates. Ultimately, General Tantawi is directly responsible for the recent deaths and abuse in Tahrir square as is Bashar Al Assad responsible for the thousands of deaths, disappearances, detentions and abuse of prisoners perpetrated by the forces he ultimately commands.

Before any of the niceties of democratic governance, the citizens of the Arab world urgently need and deserve a much more basic human right: the right to be treated with dignity and respect. It is the lack of this fundamental right that has ignited the Arab uprisings and it is the unrelenting daily toll of deaths and abuse that fans the flames of rebellion. In the United States, the pepper spraying of Occupy protesters sparked outrage and was relentlessly covered by the media for a week, the video of the incident replayed (in slo mo) ad nauseum. Meanwhile, after a week of mayhem and the killing of forty one protesters, all the Egyptian government can come up with is a lame apology, quickly negated by statements similar to that of Col. Jaffar. The Bahraini government, to its credit, and without excusing any of its past and ongoing transgressions, appointed an independent commission and actually allowed it to publicly present damning evidence of abuse and torture by government forces. This is the first step towards transparency and accountability.

We will not see such transparency any time soon in Syria under the leadership of a very myopic eye doctor in chief. Bashar and his propaganda machine, in complete denial, continue to lament the loss of life of the abusers never seeming to care about the abused, his own citizens. The heart wrenching lament of a middle aged Syrian protester who appears on one of the hundreds of Youtube videos sums it up best: His voice trembling and on the verge of tears he cries out "I am not an animal, I am not an animal! I am a human being!" and pointing to all the people around him he adds "we are all human beings and deserve to be treated like human beings". It is a very simple and very basic request and it this demand for dignity and respect that is at the heart of all the popular uprising from Tunisia to Bahrain.

And so to president Bashar Al Assad I say: "It is the people, stupid!". It is not about salafists, or terrorists or imperialist designs.... It is not about secterianism or the Hariri-KSA-Zionist plot... It is not about pan-Arabism or resistance or Baathist ideals. It is about about the people asking for their most basic rights.

Monday, November 21, 2011

نصاءح للمواطن اللبناني; ممنوع ... لزياد الرحباني

ممنوع ..... لـ زياد الرحباني

· ممنوع ولا مواطن عم يشارك باعادة انتخاب نفس الطقم السياسي بكل انتخابات يجي ويسأل وينيي الدولة

· ممنوع ولا شوفير تكسي يزمّر لشوفير تكسي تاني وقف بنص الشارع، يرجع هوي ذاته نفس الشوفير يوقف بنص الشارع

· ممنوع ولا لبناني يسب الدولة لأنها مش ضابطة عجقة السير، يرجع يسب الدولة لأنها عملتله ظبط سير بيستاهله

· ممنوع ولا حدا مسؤول عن جامع بوعي الناس بالقوة مؤمنين وكفار الساعة خمسة الصبح يجي يتذمر من صوت موسيقى عالية بمنزل شي مواطن شي يوم

· ممنوع أي شب يحكي عن حب الأرض وهوي بحياته مش ماسك منكوش ولا بيعرف يحوش زيتون

· ممنوع أيها المواطن تسرق كهربا وتشتكي من انقطاع التيار الكهربائي

· ممنوع اللبناني يسب لبنان بلبنان وبس يوصل ع كندا يحط فيروز ويقعد يبكي

· ممنوع تكون عم تناقش خصمك بالسياسة وتبلش معو بجملة كول خرا وبس يقلك عيب عليك تاخدها شخصية وتزعل

· ممنوع يقبل المواطن انو الزعما يقرطوه يومية وياخد ع خاطره اذا حدا من رفقاته قرطه بالصدفة

· ممنوع تطلع عالتلفزيون تشتكي ع زعران طايفة تانية وانت يومية بتدافع عن زعران طايفتك

· ممنوع ولا مواطن، ولا واحد، مناصرلحزب مشارك بالحكومة، ينق اذا معاشه ما كفاه لنص الشهر

· ممنوع ولا بنت تتضايق لأنو حدا لطشها، وترجع تاني نهار دغري تتضايق لأنو ما حدا لطشها

· ممنوع ولا عسكري حامل بارودة ومفروز للحراسة قدام السفارة الاميركية يكون بالبيت قدام ولاده ضد اميركا

· ممنوع ولا حدا يقول عن حاله انو لبناني صميم ووطني وهوي ما بيعرف وين الهرمل ووين عكار

· ممنوع ولا واحد يساري يحكي عن حقوق الفقرا هوي وسكران

· ممنوع ولا بيّ يسجل ولادو طواعيةً بمدرسة دينية يشتكي من انو عم يجبروله اولاده يصلوا او يجبروهم يقدسوا

· ممنوع ولا واحد طائفي بدو يحكي طائفية ليدافع عن طايفته يبلش حكيه دايما بجملة مع انو انا علماني

· ممنوع ولا نايب الو بالبرلمان دورتين يحكي عن الاصلاح السياسي والاقتصادي

· ومعليش يعني، ممنوع أي حديث فيه كلمات من نوع :منعطف خطير/ مرحلة حساسة/ ناقوس الخطر/ ضرورة التلاحم /التضامن الوطني/ لبنان الفريد من نوعه، خلص بطلولنا ياهن هلحركات

· ممنوع من هلق ورايح أي حدا، أي مواطن يقول انو عايشين عيشة كلاب، ليكو يا اخواتي، الكلاب عايشين وصدقوني آخر همهن، راسن مرتاح وماشي حالن.. انتو عايشين عيشة لبنان

عشتم... وعاش لبنان

(Thank you Laila)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Syria: The Regime Coming Unstuck

For the past several months the consensus was that unless a critical mass is reached in the number of protesters, the army crumbles or significant protests happen in Damascus or Aleppo, the regime will survive.  Once again in the year of empowerment of the Arab people, the people have defied all predictions. There have been a significant number of army defectors but the army has not fallen apart and there have not been the massive protests either in Damascus or in Aleppo.  And yet it has happened, the regime seems to be in disarray and suddenly coming apart at the seams.

It is the sheer persistence, tenacity and courage of the demonstrators that is the principle factor that has pushed the regime to the edge of the  precipice. The people of Homs deserve much of the credit for heroically standing up to the regime's brutality.  Also, contrary to the regime's propaganda, the silent majority were on the side of the demonstrators not on the side of the regime; it explains in part the perseverance of those who take to the street. This silent support also explains why the relatively small FSA (Free Syrian Army), was capable of mounting a daring attack against the feared Air Force mukhabarat headquarters outside Damascus. But the needle that seems to have broken the regime's back are the actions of the certifiably useless Arab League.  Suddenly, the regime that fancies itself the bastion of Arabism, has been shunned by the organization that represents the vestiges of old-style pan-Arab unity.

It is the regime's depraved brutality that is the main cause of its undoing and this iss documented in horrific detail in thousands of online videos for all to see.  It is hard to see how, at this point, anyone but the morally depraved or the completely deluded still support the regime.  At a certain point, all such individuals become complicit in the violence and murder perpetrated against their fellow citizens. This violence is emblematic of a regime holding on to a sclerosed, defunct and bankrupt ideology; they are unwilling and incapable of responding in any other way.  In this way, Bashar's Syria is more like Ghaddafi's Libya and unlike Egypt and Tunisia. Both of the latter had a flexible enough system, despite being autocracies, to manage a transition of power without destroying the state.  This is a worrisome fact for Syria.  Left to his own devices, Bashar is likely to fight to the very end taking down with him the whatever structure of the state is still standing.  It looks like Syria's only way to a reasonably orderly transition is to hope for palace coup or to have the army, as an institution, turn against him.  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Lebanese TV Talk Show Brawl over Syrian Uprsising

On a Lebanese TV talk show hosting two politicians from opposing camps earlier this week, a heated argument about Syria degenerated into a shouting match followed by a near brawl. To the left of the talk show host is Mustafa Alloush, a politician from the Future Movement and to the right of the host is Fayiz Shukur, the head of the Lebanese Baathist party (allied to Bashar Al Assad). When the topic turned to Syria, Shukur asks Alloush if he had listened to Assad's speech. Alloush said "yes but I don't believe him, I think he is a liar". Shukur, taking offense as he plays the role of obedient sycophant,asks Alloush sarcastically: "who do you think you are to call president Bashar a liar". Insults are exchanged, water and pens fly across the table and then, Shukur, Bashar's man to the end, gets ready to throw his chair before he is stopped by the host. In the final seconds of the video, one can hear Shukur swearing and calling Alloush's sister a whore.

It is a sadly comical video and I blame the uncivil behavior completely on Shukur. His behavior is emblematic of anyone working for or supporting the criminal regime in Syria. Beside the horror perpetrated on the Syrian people, their long arm reaches into Lebanon where they use their allies to threaten, harass or kidnap anyone opposing the Syrian regime. Recently they unleashed their goons to sack embassies of governments who go against them and send death threats to the head of the Arab league.

I applaud Alloush for taking a stand against the Syrian regime, a courageous move given that it is done at the risk of his own safety. Mustafa Alloush is an old classmate from medical school. Warm, honest, soften spoken and always with a ready smile, Mustafa was liked by everyone in class. In fact this video may be the first time I see him lose his temper. Not that he is a pushover; he is short but built like a rock and has a black belt in Judo. Had Shukur, in his rage, managed to reach him, Mustafa would have taken him down in a second.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

We Need More Fadwa Suleimans

There are certainly numerous women activists in Syria, many of whom have paid a heavy price for this activism.  However, none have become as visible as Fadwa Suleiman has over the past few days.  Even more powerful than her recent videotaped appeal (see previous post), is this video of her leading protesters in Homs in chants against the regime. Whereas we are used to seeing most of the visible faces of the opposition speaking calmly and in measured words, the emotion and energy that Fadwa projects is enthralling and galvanizing.  Of course, the symbolism of a young woman, a well known public figure, leading throngs of protesters in a male-dominated society cannot be overstated. Her visibility also shatters the divisive narrative of the regime's propaganda. Since the beginning of the uprising, the regime has pitched the uprising, in images and words, as a clash between the the sophisticated, modern, urban Syrians and the backwards, ignorant, intolerant hordes in the countryside.  Fadwa's voice completely dismantles this false narrative.

She has been criticized as an attention seeker and one who is trying to revive a waning career.  These are ridiculous accusations given that, with her vocal activism, she has essentially put herself and her family on the regime's hit list.  Very few public figures from Syria's artistic community have mustered even a fraction of her courage and stood up against this murderous regime.  Moreover, if her visibility is new,  her political stance against the regime is not new and has been consistent since the beginning of the uprising.  Nor is Fadwa's fearlessness  and willingness to go against the grain new.  She was not afraid to tackle controversial roles in her acting career. 

The lack of visible leadership in the Syrian uprising was initially thought to be an advantage.  However, at this stage, the uprising would benefit from a few visible public figures to galvanize the Syrian people and get the support of the world community.  The Syrian National Council, since the announcement of its formation, has been all but invisible.  As Syrian citizens continue to be slaughtered daily, we need more voices like Fadwa Suleiman's to raise the volume and spread the word.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Syrian Actress on Hunger Strike فدوى سليمان

The courageous Syrian actress Fadwa Suleiman, who has led several anti-regime demonstrations in Homs, makes a videotaped plea to her fellow citizens. Below is a translation of the text of her speech:

“General strike Thursday in the city of Homs: Since yesterday, neighborhoods in Homs have been searched by the security forces looking for me. People were beaten to force them to reveal where I was. In case I am arrested by the security forces or the army, it is possible that I will be forced to appear on the Dunia TV station to confess that I am part of a conspiracy against Syria as they have done with the honorable hero, sheikh Ahmad Alsayasen and the (defected) army officer Hussein Harmoush. In case I or any one of my family are harmed in any way, I hold the regime, the army, the security forces and the shabiha (thugs) fully responsible. I declare that I will continue to demonstrate and continue the hunger strike that I started two days ago to prove to all our partners in the nation the lies of the regime about the presence of armed gangs, salafis and Muslim extremists intent on overthrowing the regime and exterminating the minorities. I advise the great people of Syria to continue their peaceful protests until the fall of the regime and they achieve the civil, democratic country that all Syrians dream of. I implore all Syrians to remain unified and stand together until the fall of the regime, the regime that has lost its legitimacy since the constitution was altered to accommodate Bashar Al Assad’s rise to the presidency for no reason other than the fact that he was the son of the previous president. I call on you today and every day to descend to every public square in civil disobedience and to go on hunger strike until the withdrawal of the army and security forces from every city and street and the release of all prisoners of conscience and political prisoners from the jails of oppression. I call on all honorable Syrians everywhere and I call on every human being wherever they are, to support us and to stand in front of our embassies all over the world and to declare their intent to go on hunger strike in solidarity with the right of all people to freely choose their own government without fear of losing their life. Oh free people of Damascus, free people of Barzeh and Quaboon and Midan, the free people of Douma and Kadam and Muadamieh and Harasta and Irbeen and Riknideen and Zabadani. Oh free people of Daraa and Baniyas and Latakia and Tartous. Oh free people of Hama and Aleppo and Idlib and Bukamal and Deir Elzor and Raqqah and Quamishli and Hasakeh. I call upon you to declare your civil disobedience and go on hunger strike in all public squares and streets in solidarity with the prisoners of the central prison of Homs who are themselves on hunger strike and to lift the siege off the neighborhood of Baba Amr that has been subjected to continuous shelling with heavy machine guns and artillery for the past week and that has been isolated from the world. No one knows what is going on inside Baba Amr. Baba Amr is being subjected to a real humanitarian disaster. Stand with them because no street, neighborhood or city in Syria is immune to what is happening in Baba Amr. As the Arab League continues to set one deadline after another, the regime continues to oppress the people of Syria, robbing them of their dignity, their freedom and their life.

And peace, all the peace for Syria and it people. 

And peace, all the peace for Syria and it people. 
 And peace, all the peace for Syria and it people.

Thursday of the General Strike, Homs, 11/10/2011.

(Translation: Abu Kareem)