The Happy Arab News Service

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Soon it will all be clean

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Friday, November 19, 2021

ICU brain

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Corona on the beach

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

This blog continues to live here

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Bashar's Secret Minority

It’s become an article of faith among policy makers and analysts in the West that Syria is a nation of minorities. Various sources put the share of  non Sunni Muslim minorities at around one quarter of the population. These minorities are believed to constitute the bulk of the support base of the Syrian regime. Some ventured as far as to suggest that the regime was deliberately stoking sectarian tensions with the massacres in Houla and Qubeir in order to consolidate its minority support base.  

The commonly accepted percentages of Syrian minorities are: Alawites and Shia - 13%,  Christians - 10% and Druze - 3%. Syria, however, does not collect nor publish data related to the sectarian composition of its population and trying to track  the origin of common estimations usually leads one to nowhere.

For example all observers commenting on Syria believe that Syrian Druze live primarily in Jabal al Druze and constitute 3% of the Syrian population. This claim however does not square with the results of Syria’s last population census. According to the census, in 2004 the population of the province of Sweida, where Jabal al Druze, is located, had only 313,231 inhabitants against 17,920,844 of the total population of Syria. This makes for 1.7% and not 3% of the population. On top of this, in 2004 the birth rate of Sweida stood at 1.7% against the national average of 2.5%.  At this rate, discounting migration flows between Syrian provinces, by 2012 Sweida should have already shrunk to 1.6%,  including not only the Druze but also a sizeable Christian community in the city of Sweida and some Muslim population

Activists in Sweida often explain the low level of Druze participation in the Syrian uprising by widespread emigration of  young Druze. Many young Druze have left the unemployment stricken province for greener pastures. If they left for Damascus and other bigger cities, this could compensate for  the decline of Sweida's share in the general population. The contention that Syrian Druze remain concentrated in Jabal al Druze would be still wrong though. Yet, according to the same sources, many of these young people have emigrated out of the country altogether. If true, it leaves almost a half of the estimated Druze population unconfirmed.

Another case in point are Syrian Christians who are generally believed to have declined from 14% in 1943 to 10% today. Syria Comment is one of the most comprehensive blogs and link aggregators on Syria. One of its contributors
Ehsani recently estimated that Christians make for only between 4% to 5% of Syria’s population. Ehsani attributed this dramatic decline, again, to emigration and anemic birth rates.

Ehsani’s research into the subject was triggered by a conversation with a priest in Aleppo who remarked on his futile attempts to dissuade young Christians from emigrating. It turned out that Christians priests and bishops in Aleppo keep track  of the families under their respective churches as well as the births and marriages of their members. After the examination of available data Ehsani’s conclusion was that the share of Christians in the population of Aleppo is not 12% as claimed by Wikipedia and other sources, but can be as low as 3.5%.

The difference in birth rates between Syrian provinces, by the way, can be rather dramatic. In Sweida, Latakia and Tartous,  the three provinces with a Druze or Alawite majority, the birth rate ranged in 2004  from 1.7% to 1.9%. In the heavily Sunni provinces of Idlib, Deraa and Deir ez Zor, it was 3.1%.

The census of 1943 put the share of the Sunni population at 69%. Almost 70 years it’s estimated to have grown only to 74%. Yet, considering the emigration and paltry birth rates of  the non Sunni minorities, it seriously beggars belief that they can be still retaining a share of as much as 26% of the population .

As far as Syria’s most important minority is concerned, the consensus goes, the Alawites dominate Syria’s armed forces. At the very least they dominate  that part of the army which remains loyal to Bashar Assad, the rest of the army is locked in barracks.

Yet, this estimation of the sectarian composition of the Syrian army conflicts with numerous interviews with army defectors published during the last year. According to their presentation of the situation in their units, the rank and file soldiers appear to be mostly Sunni. True, many officers seem to be Alawites, but other officers don’t. David Enders who traveled to Idlib with a convoy of UN monitors used that opportunity to interview government soldiers unobstructed by the presence of minders. The soldiers told him that four months ago the commander of their unit defected himself and started a rebel brigade. It’s highly unlikely that that officer was an Alawite.

According to the census of 2004, the combined population of Latakia and Tartous does not reach even 9% of the population. It’s true that there is a significant Alawite presence outside the Alawite heartland. But it’s also true that the numbers for Tartus and Latakia also include a significant Sunni minority. Cities like Banyas in Tartous and even the capital of Latakia itself are majority Sunni. In fact, parts of Latakia are now infested with insurgents. So it’s not that Syria is teeming with Alawites either.  

Besides, the notion of an Alawite dominated Syrian army simply does not square with the daily death tolls published by the Syrian official agency which list both the names and home provinces of fallen soldiers. For example, on June 09,  one of the bloodiest days for the Syrian army until now, 57 army and law-enforcement martyrs were laid to rest according to the official SANA. To these Tartous and Latakia had contributed  ten martyrs. While it’s more than their share in the population, they are hardly dominating the list.  "We all know that most of the security forces shooting at us and killing us are Sunnis, not Alawites, ” a Sunni activists from the Damascus suburb of Douma was quoted by Phil Sands on Jun 21, 2012.

As the civil war in Syria is escalating and taking on an increasingly sectarian dimension, many observers took to predicting a prolonged and drawn out conflict.  With the minorities rallying behind the regime of Bashar Assad, these people reason, the regime can mobilize enough support in the population and armed forces to delay the inevitable. They are wrong. Wikipedia notwithstanding, Syria is not such a nation of minorities as it used to be in 1943. Neither these minorities are present in Syria’s armed forces in such overwhelming numbers. Their loyalty alone is not enough to prolong the agony.

It remains a very underappreciated fact, but at the beginning of the uprising the regime in Syria was  commanding loyalty of a significant section of its Sunni Arab population.

Since the beginning of the uprising and until quite recently, reporters in Damascus have repeatedly noted  that the regime appeared to enjoy a widespread support among urban classes in the capital  that transcended sectarian affiliations.

A rebel leader in Aleppo, quoted by Anthony Loyd on June 19, 2012, has confirmed that many Sunnis in the province joined the pro government shabiha militias and identified two clans,  the Bari and Baqqarah, as supporters of the regime in Aleppo. With more than one million of members, the Baqqara is also a major tribe in Deir ez Zor.

Even the notion of the Syrian uprising as a  poor Sunni man revolt does not  do full justice to this reality. According to Phil Sands, as late as january of this year, a senior tribal figure in the impoverished  Deir ez Zor estimated that the Sunni tribesmen in the province were still almost evenly split between supporters and opponents of the regime.

It’s this hidden minority of Sunni supporters that  was keeping the regime on its feet until now.  Losing this support to the sectarian polarization would set the regime on fast track to oblivion.

Meanwhile, according to  latest reports from Deir ez Zor, the alliance between the Sunni tribes in the province and the regime has unravelled at last. But, once it happened, large chunks of the province and the city of Deir ez Zor quickly fell under the opposition control. This is not the first time that the opposition takes over center of the city of Deir ez Zor. But this was the first time a  government assault to recapture the city was repelled, leaving the streets of Deir ez Zor strewn with destroyed  tanks and other military equipment.  

At stake are most of Syria’s oil and control over the  border with Iraq which is known to be used to smuggle weapons and foreign fighters into the country. In fact, Deir ez Zor has well armed and battle hardened tribal allies on the Iraqi side of the border. Bashar Assad has been having it bad enough in Homs. But he may find this “Benghazi” an even tougher nut.

Deir al Zour - June 28, 2012.

* Birth rates for Syrian provinces were extracted from the 2004 census data and checked against other sources by Christoph Bein. The link to his blog will be provided when he goes into trouble of starting one.

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Proclaimed Unknown at 8:18 PM


Saturday, May 26, 2012

I stopped blogging since a while and I have no idea if I am going back to blogging any time soon. Nevertheless here is a list of articles I recently co-authored or wrote alone. I will keep it updated.

Otherwise you can connect with me on Facebook, if you are interested.

May 24, 2012

The lurking reality of absurd borders and impossible ethno-sectarian configurations -- and the fun has just started.

Big Party in a Desert

May 10, 2012

A cardinal, an atheist and phony media outrage

April 6, 2012

Claims of straightforward ethnic cleansing by Islamist militants in Homs don't add up

Syrian disinformation about Christian persecution

February 21, 2012

After two weeks of shock and awe, Syria's opposition remains intact. Will Assad's army do likewise?

Bashar's 'Iron Fist'

February 6, 2012

The "peripheralism" and Malthusian underpinnings of an unexpected uprising.

Demography Is Destiny in Syria

January 16 2012

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Obama is now paying the price for Gaddafi's demise.

The Dead Man and His Long Shadow

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Proclaimed Unknown at 9:41 PM


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Saving the World, Helping America

Last updated: October 6, 2011

August 4, 2007

Sean Penn was the last in a host of celebrities that descended on Venezuela recently to pay tribute to Comandante Chavez. The list of his predecessors includes actor Danny Glover, singer Harry Belafonte and Cindy Sheehan. Chavez generously invited Penn on board of his presidential Airbus jet for a short trip to werstern Venezuela in a company of other dignitaries from Canada, Poland and Burkina Faso (Chavez's 21st century socialism is extremely popular in Burkina Faso. Unfortunately, one of the poorest countries on the planet, Burkina Faso is still dragging its feet with implementation, excusing itself by the absence of oil).

Chavez has always been of a very high opinion of Penn and he had no intention to hide it, even though this could have upset other dignitaries by making them feel underappreciated.

"He's a courageous man," Chavez said as he introduced Penn to reporters and dignitaries during the flight from Caracas to western Venezuela. "He's very quiet, but he has a fire burning inside."

Sean Penn - Burning from inside

Chavez lauded Penn as "a man who is critical of his government and of imperialism". He also complimented Penn on his style of acting and concluded his laudatory session with "And he's anti-Bush!".

This is not to say that Sean Penn remained owing to the Venezuelan president or something. At the end of the trip, Chavez and Penn donned white lab coats and toured an agricultural research laboratory. Here Chavez made a revolutionary speech addressing a crowd of workers and local residents.

While Chavez made a speech, however, Penn stood at a distance alongside the audience, occasionally jotting down notes. He spoke only when Chavez asked the actor to say a few words.

"I came here looking for a great country. I found a great country," Penn told the crowd.

During the trip the guests were also taken to an area at the border with Colombia. There Chavez noted that this is "one of the most tense zones of Latin America". With a map of the region in his hand, Chavez warned his companions that "the U.S. empire has a strong presence on the Colombian side", sending shivers down the spine of Penn and other dignitaries.

Chavez found in Penn an attentive and understanding listener. At the end of a very fruitful and encouraging exchange of ideas and views between the two that touched on various subjects ranging from the situation of the world in general to internal problems of their home countries, Chavez came up with a few highly practical conclusions:

Enlivened by his conversations with Penn, the socialist president lambasted the U.S. government for "destroying the world" with war and warned of brewing economic troubles, saying Washington should do much more for its own poor.

"There could be a revolution there," Chavez said. "We'll help them. The United States must be helped because the United States is going to implode."

Source: AP via Yahoo

Some dignitaries struggled to comprehend how exactly the comandante is going to help the US. Is he going to help America by helping the revolution to happen or by helping America to prevent the revolution? Yet everybody was greatly relieved to know (Penn in particular because he lives in the US) that the comandante is aware of America's brewing economic troubles and has a clear plan of action for saving the US in case some shit happens.

God Bless America

Or, as they say in Venezuela: Socialismo O Muerte !!!

Penn and Chavez - Saving the World, Helping America

October 6, 2011

Sean Penn is burning again

Sean Penn is on fire again as the revolutionary fervor of the Arab Spring is spreading to the faraway shores of North America. Upon landing in the capital of the Libyan revolution - Benghazi, Penn told an AFP reporter

"This is my first visit to inspirational Libya. I am inspired by the Arab Spring."

Source: CBS

From Benghazi Penn flew to Tripoli where he praised the courage of the Libyan people. Penn declined to comment on exactly what his plans were during a press conference in Tripoli. But then he added, in Penn's inimitable laconic, yet cutting through, style, "I came here looking for a great country. And I found a great country."

Penn's old friend and source of inspiration, Hugo Chavez, was in shock. For a while Chavez was inclined to dismiss the whole thing as another example of how a gringo always remains a gringo. But that would be racist and Chavez, as everybody knows, is against racism. So, instead, Chavez concluded that Penn's impressionability had made him an unstable and immature individual highly susceptible to media manipulations by the US empire. Chavez made sure though to have the political ignorance of his gringo friend exposed for all revolutionary masses around the world to see.

"The Libyans are resisting the invasion and aggression. I ask God to protect the life of our brother Muammar Gaddafi. They're hunting him down to kill him," he said.

"No one knows where Gaddafi is, I think he went off to the desert ... to lead the resistance. What else can he do?"

These are hard times for the revolutionary brotherhood and the sales of low-cost household appliances and other consumer goods have plunged in Venezuela as the revolutionary masses, dismayed by a string of recent setbacks, cut short on eating and drinking and other acts of consumption, dragging the economy down. There was little Chavez could say to encourage the masses, besides reaffirming Venezuela's support for and solidarity with the embattled revolutionaries in the Middle East.

"I spoke yesterday with the president of Syria, our brother President Bashar al-Assad," Chavez said in a televised ceremony to present low-cost household appliances for Venezuelans.

"From here, we send our solidarity to the Syrian people, to President Bashar. They are resisting imperial aggression, the attacks of the Yankee empire and its European allies."

Source: Reuters

Despite the general revolutionary doom and gloom, in the wake of Chavez's address to the masses, the sales of low cost household appliances in Venezuela have indeed recovered a little bit. But with the Yankee empire and its European allies gone on rampage wrecking havoc around the world, who knows for how long...


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Proclaimed Unknown at 8:55 PM


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Peace will prevail!

As the new darling of all peace loving people on this planet rushed to listen to Abbas formally requesting the United Nations to grant a Palestinian state full membership, his path into the General Assembly was blocked by UN security guards (The problem was that Erdogan and his entourage were trying to storm their way into the assembly through a wrong entry). Yet, you cannot stop the man who won the admiration of leftists in Israel and elsewhere by standing up to the Israeli aggressor. Several UN security officials were badly bruised and one ended in a hospital. According to eyewitnesses, the Grand Sultan of all Turks/Caliph of the Arabs personally took part in the fight. In sharp contrast to the unrepentant Zionist warmongers during the Mavi Marmara incident, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon confessed his sins and apologized to Turkish diplomats.

The fall-out was still continuing yesterday, as representatives for UN security guards accused the Turkish delegation of bullying and expressed disappointment in the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after hearing that he had apologised to Turkish diplomats for the incident.

One of the UN security officers was reportedly taken to hospital after the two sides traded blows, and the incident continued in a second confrontation later in the afternoon.

Source: Independent

Erdogan to the General Assembly: You cannot stop peace. Peace will prevail!

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Proclaimed Unknown at 9:21 AM


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Danish Cartoons Revisited

14 July 2011

A suicide bomber has killed four people at a memorial service in Kandahar for the assassinated half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

President Karzai was not present at the memorial. Four of his other brothers were but escaped unharmed.

Ahmad Wali Karzai, a controversial but key figure in Nato's battle against the Taliban, was killed by his bodyguard.

Officials say the attacker was stopped at the mosque's entrance, where he blew himself up.

Witnesses, including President Karzai's spokesman Waheed Omer, said he had hidden the explosives in his turban. Provincial intelligence chief Gen Mohammad Naeem Momin told the Associated Press that early investigations supported the reports.

Among those killed was Hikmatullah Hikmat, the head of Kandahar's Ulema Council, said the ministry. The council is an influential body of clerics in charge of regulating religious issues in the province.

Source: BBC News

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Proclaimed Unknown at 8:27 PM


Saturday, June 18, 2011

History is not about to repeat itself

History does not repeat itself except in the minds of those who do not know history

Khalil Gibran

The Arab Spring is frequently compared to the Berlin Wall, the Prague Spring and such events in Eastern Europe. By association it's exciting expectations of a similar outcome, namely, that liberal democracy and prosperity are on the verge to triumph in the Middle East. As one who both was exposed to the anti communist dissidence in Eastern Europe and is following closely the so called Arab Spring, let me state it in the most clear terms possible: The Arab Spring resembles East European anti Communist movements only to those who either have no idea what it was like in Eastern Europe, or have no idea what the Arab Spring is about, or both.

Basically, the prospects of the Arab Spring vary from country to country. The one that holds most promise in my view is Tunisia. Egypt is already on the border of hopelessness. The rest are disasters waiting to happen. In fact, Eastern Europe has also had very different transitions from the Communist rule. Not all of them were as inspirational as the Berlin Wall. In this sense, if the general Arab Spring resembles something, it's some kind of a hybrid between Yugoslavia, Romania and Kyrgyzstan. The last one is not exactly Eastern Europe but is illustrative as a Muslim former Soviet republic. And the hybrid example is not meant to say that the Arab Spring combines the best of the afore mentioned transitions, but rather their worst parts. From now on when I say Eastern Europe, it would mean by understanding only success stories such as Poland, the Baltic states or Czechoslovakia.

The first difference between the Arab Spring and Eastern Europe lies in the fact that the most impressive East European anti Communist uprisings did not happen as an act of desperation. It's not that people in those countries did not have expectations for a better economic future, or did not pin hopes on free market economy as a way to catch up with the West. But these uprisings were not carried out by hungry people who were driven to the edge by pervasive abuse by security forces. Eastern Europe was not starved or abused into rebellion. In many places there was a genuine and long standing popular longing for a more open and liberal regime.

That's why neither Eastern Europe was chasing after its former communist rulers the style of the Middle East where revolutions often look like tribal vendettas against the elites and ruling parties. In many East European countries Communist parties have reformed and their new reincarnations became part of the political landscape. There was simply not enough bitterness and petty vengeance in Eastern Europe to unleash paranoid witch hunts and settling of scores which are rapidly becoming the staple of Arab Springs in the Middle East.

Two, these anti Communist movements were just as much anti Communist as they were pro Western. I mean they were usually both to the same degree. Whole generations of East European dissidents grew on badly jammed broadcasts of the Voice of America and Radio Liberty. The readiness with which Eastern Europe takes part in US military missions abroad, Poland provided the third largest contingent of forces in Iraq, goes well beyond short term alliances of convenience. It reflects the genuine sense of strategic partnership and ideological affinity many East European nations feel towards the US as the leader of the Western World. To adopt the Western political model and to be integrated into the West was the same thing for the leaders of anti Communist movements in Eastern Europe. East European revolutionaries would have been unlikely guests on the Guardian or al-Jazeera sites.

Compared to Eastern Europe, the Arab Spring is blessed with a certain schizophrenic quality. On one hand, the revolutionaries basically want to adopt democracy, a model of society that originated, matured in and is promoted by the West. On the other hand, the bulk of revolutionaries remain deeply suspicious, if not outright hostile, to the West. The Western political model is good, but the West itself is bad, neocolonialist and imperialistic.

Shortly after the Arab Spring hit Egypt, Wikileaks published a series of leaks that revealed that the US was actually constantly pressuring Mubarak behind the scenes to liberalize the political system in Egypt. In fact, it transpired from the leaks that the US was funding and training Egyptian activists. These leaks even inspired certain conspiracy theories about America orchestrating the revolution in Egypt. It's noteworthy that these leaks were ignored or downplayed by the Egyptian opposition, even though they provided a perfect opportunity for both sides to mend their relations. The simple truth is that the Egyptian opposition, even the secular one, is simply not interested in such revelations because it shares the same paranoid anti Western mindset with the rest of the population.

One reason for this state of affairs is of course the simple fact that Eastern Europe may be Eastern, but it's still Europe. Another reason is that the West has changed since Eastern Europe. The Berlin Wall was facing the West of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, a very self confident and full of the sense of mission West. The Arab Spring was greeted by a very different, heavily demoralized and self hating West, which is crumbling economically and struggling to recover its sense of identity after decades of experiments with multiculturalism and other lunacies. Nevertheless, without a doubt the anti Western conspiratorial paranoia, which is an integral part of the Arab mentality in the Middle East, plays a role here as well.

Three. One thing that the whole Middle East and Libya in North Africa share with Yugoslavia and Kyrgyzia are impossible sectarian and tribal configurations and fragmentation. This makes creation of functional democratic societies in many countries impossible in principle. The Arab Spring is bound to make quite a few states disappear. Yet, it's not even this small technical detail that makes the Arab Spring so unlikely to transition to the Arab Summer. What the East European post Communist economic success stories like Poland and Estonia shared with each other was the elevated degree of enthusiasm for free markets and supply side economics. In some countries post Communist economic shock therapies were carried out with passion. There was an ideological counter reaction against Communism that in many quarters made the word socialism socially unacceptable.

The Arab Spring, on the other hand, is in part a reaction to the pains of the transition to market economy initiated by the Arab regimes during the last two decades. In some countries, the transition was obviously mismanaged and the reforms only partially implemented, but this is beyond the point. Market reforms are usually painful and it can take up to 2-3 years into the transition for the economy to finally take off. In the Arab World the transition to market economy was exacerbated by a simple demographic fact. Economically and socially the Arab World is currently reliving the peak of its demographic explosion that happened 20-30 year ago. As that generation is currently entering the labor market and searching for housing, the system frays. The pain, however, came to be habitually associated with the reforms and corruption. In the Middle East the notion of free market does not enjoy any particular popularity in revolutionary circles. But re-nationalization of already privatized industries can be quite a hit.

It's this anti capitalist and anti market populist streak of the Arab Spring that makes it so prone to turn into fiasco. The Arab World can afford no populist adventures right now because the demographic, and in some places plain Malthusian, pressures would quickly make the society explode and disintegrate. The primary reason that Tunisia is not as hopeless as the rest lies in the fact that its demographic situation is better. The number of new entrees on the labor market should soon start declining. The rest of the Arab World has at least another decade of pain to go through. No socialist shortcuts are possible here. But expectations of such shortcuts are very much what the Arab Spring is about.

To put it short, history is unlikely to repeat itself and it's not the Prague Spring which is currently on rampage around the Middle East. I am sure this should be quite a devastating piece of news for those people who were foolish enough to let themselves get hooked on the notion of history endlessly going through the same boring routines. As a gesture of good will on my part, I invite these people instead to contemplate the image attached below. It's not about the Berlin Wall coming down in Cairo, but nevertheless it's still something which is definitely trying to repeat itself.

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Proclaimed Unknown at 5:27 PM


Monday, June 6, 2011

Roses in the Desert

Update: Vogue removed the infamous eulogy of Asma al-Assad from its site. No worry. Use this link.

The Closet Reformer

April 05, 2007 | Zeina Karam, Associated Press

DAMASCUS -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi challenged the White House on Middle East policy yesterday, meeting with Syria's leader and insisting "the road to Damascus is a road to peace."

Source: The Boston Globe

April 8, 2010

John Kerry: Syria is an essential player in bringing peace and stability to the region... I am very committed to working on a continued effort to achieve progress in our bilateral relationship.

Source: AP via Haaretz

March 27, 2011
Interview With Bob Schieffer of CBS's Face the Nation

Hillary Clinton: There’s a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.

Source: U.S. State Department

The good old days and the good old friends - Secretary Clinton and Mutassim, one of Gaddafi's kids, otherwise Libyan National Security Adviser

By BASSEM MROUE, Associated Press – Tue Apr 26

BEIRUT – Gunfire reverberated Tuesday in the southern Syrian city of Daraa where the dead still lay unclaimed in the streets a day after a brutal government crackdown on the popular revolt against President Bashar Assad, residents said.

. . .

A Daraa resident said on Tuesday that "dead bodies were still in the streets because no one has been able to remove them."

"We are being subjected to a massacre," the man screamed over the telephone as gunfire crackled in the background. "Children are being killed. We have been without electricity for three days. We have no water."

Making the World a Better Place

(AP) – Mar 30, 2011

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed "conspirators" Wednesday for an extraordinary wave of dissent against his authoritarian rule, but he failed to lift the country's despised emergency law or offer any concessions in his first speech since the protests began nearly two weeks ago.

Within hours of Assad's speech, residents of the port city of Latakia said troops opened fire during a protest by about 100 people — although it was not immediately clear whether they were firing in the air or at the protesters. The residents asked that their names not be published for fear of reprisals.

Assad said Wednesday that Syria is facing "a major conspiracy" that aims to weaken this country of 23 million.

Pity a dictator who is running short on excuses to keep shooting people. Fortunately, there are always well intentioned folks around who are only happy to oblige. Perfect timing, Assange!

April 18, 2011 | Gary Thomas

Citing leaked cables released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, The Washington Post newspaper reported Monday that the United States funneled at least $6 million to the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based umbrella group of Syrian exiles. The report quotes diplomatic cables as saying some of the funds went to TV Barada, a satellite TV channel also based in London that began beaming anti-government programming to Syria in 2009.

. . .

Murhaf Jouejati, a Syrian-born analyst at the Middle East Institute, says just the news of the funding will give Syrian President Bashar Assad ammunition to try to discredit the growing anti-government movement and stem the protests gripping the country.

"I think that it is significant in as far as the Syrian government is probably going to use this in order to show its people that, yes, not only is this unrest foreign-backed, but foreign-sponsored," said Jouejati.

Source: VOANews

Watching Human Rights in the Middle East

They say the IMF missed the Arab revolution with its upbeat reports about the economies of Tunisia and Egypt. But what do they have to say about this?

So What Was Human Rights Watch Up to in 2010?
Alana Goodman 01.12.2011

In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

The group overlooks some of the worst human rights abuses in closed countries, like Syria and Libya and Algeria. NGO Monitor writes that “One of three major reports on Israel in 2010 consisted of 166 pages, while ten years of research on human rights violations in Syria produced a 35-page report.” (!!!)

Source: Commentary Magazine

Banner from the Human Rights Watch site

The Fool-in-Chief and the Brotherhood of Arabs

Fri Apr 8

CAMP MAREZ, Iraq (AFP) – US military action in Libya did not set a precedent for future American intervention in other Middle Eastern countries facing uprisings or unrest, Pentagon chief Robert Gates said on Friday.

"What has made Libya unique is first of all a request, which is unprecedented in my experience, of the Arab League actually asking for an intervention in the Middle East, to take on an Arab government mistreating its own people," the US defence secretary said.

Source: AFP via Yahoo News

The Arab League - The ultimate source of international legitimacy

Posted By Colum Lynch | Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Last week, ambassadors from the Arab League issued a letter supporting Damascus's bid for a seat on the Human Rights Council (HRC). The U.N.'s Asia Group had already announced in January its endorsement of Syria's candidacy for the rights council, and the group plans to push for a vote in the General Assembly next month....

"Syria's campaign for a seat on the Human Rights Council is a slap in the face to the victims of the current crackdown, and an embarrassment to those who have supported its candidacy," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch. "By supporting Syria's candidacy, the Asian Group and the Arab League risk emboldening Syria's bloody crackdown and making a mockery of the Human Rights Council."

Source: Foreign Policy

Posted By David Bosco | Thursday, April 28, 2011

Is this the same Arab League whose support of a Libya no-fly zone was treated by the Obama administration and the West generally as legitimizing international intervention there? Could it be that this regional organization was in fact not acting on high principle--or motivated by the "responbility to protect"--but was instead simply seizing an opportunity to skewer the hated Gaddafi? It's safe to say that the Arab League's brief moment of being treated as Fount of International Legitimacy and Gateway to a Security Council Resolution has ended. Now it's back to just being the Arab League.

Source: Foreign Policy

A Rose in the Desert


23.04.2011 @ 10:33 CET

. . .

"Given the level of violence, the EU should impose targeted sanctions against key figures in the regime. Visa bans, asset freezes - no more business as usual, no more glossy spreads in Vogue about Louboutin shoes," Houry said.

Source: EUobserver

Asma al-Assad: A Rose in the Desert
by Joan Juliet Buck | photographed by James Nachtwey

Asma al-Assad, Syria’s dynamic first lady, is on a mission to create a beacon of culture and secularism in a powder-keg region—and to put a modern face on her husband’s regime.

. . .

The 35-year-old first lady’s central mission is to change the mind-set of six million Syrians under eighteen, encourage them to engage in what she calls “active citizenship.” “It’s about everyone taking shared responsibility in moving this country forward, about empowerment in a civil society. We all have a stake in this country; it will be what we make it.”

. . .

The presidential family lives surrounded by neighbors in a modern apartment in Malki. On Friday, the Muslim day of rest, Asma al-Assad opens the door herself in jeans and old suede stiletto boots, hair in a ponytail, the word happiness spelled out across the back of her T-shirt. At the bottom of the stairs stands the off-duty president in jeans—tall, long-necked, blue-eyed. A precise man who takes photographs and talks lovingly about his first computer, he says he was attracted to studying eye surgery “because it’s very precise, it’s almost never an emergency, and there is very little blood.”

The Core Issue

JANUARY 31, 2011
Interview With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

President Assad: I am not talking here on behalf of the Tunisians or the Egyptians. I am talking on behalf of the Syrians. It is something we always adopt. We have more difficult circumstances than most of the Arab countries but in spite of that Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue.

Source: WSJ

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Proclaimed Unknown at 10:32 PM


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In Search of the Kraken

Sperm Whale Encounter from Howard Hall on Vimeo.

This post is tribute to the legendary sea monster. The legend has it that this creature is so huge that the Kraken was occasionally mistaken for an island and found its way into ancient maps only to be never seen again after a while.

Modern science believes that Kraken is a collective name for as many as eight different species. The search for the Kraken still goes on...

In Search of the Kraken

Giant Squid (Architeuthis) vs Sperm Whale

Artwork by Ryan Somma


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Proclaimed Unknown at 5:21 PM


Monday, May 16, 2011

Stop Importing Arab Oil

You have to be a Yankee to continue persisting in your addiction to petroleum imports when searches like this hit google from such places as Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. Verily, the energy unintelligence of these people is without limits

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Proclaimed Unknown at 7:15 PM


Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Ride of Your Life

This post is tribute to the giant manta ray.

The Ghosts of the Ocean Night (Best viewed in full screen)

Giant Manta flying into the Sky

The Ride of Your Life (Best viewed in full screen)

Underwater Birds


If you know good videos, post me links in the comments section. I will update the post. Also check the Deep Blue Sea label for more of this stuff


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Proclaimed Unknown at 10:44 PM


Friday, April 29, 2011

Bashar or Abdullah?

Last updated: April 29, 2011

September 27, 2010

This post was inspired by my exchange with Mathan on FB and it pertains to the debate about what is the best predictor of survivability of a political leader in the Middle East, watch or binoculars, and who is the next Arab leader to be kicked out. Says Martin Kramer, the most senior proponent of the watch school:

A few years ago, I heard an officer in Israeli military intelligence say that there's nothing so comical as the sight of Bashar Asad, ophthalmologist, peering through binoculars at a military exercise. He looks so unmilitary. I didn't know exactly what that meant, but now I do. Just look at this picture, taken on Monday at a Syrian military exercise at an "undisclosed location," and released by the official Syrian press agency.

. . .

But there's something even funnier. Where's his watch? His wrists are bare. Now as anyone knows, you can't last for an hour in any military, even the Syrian, without a watch.

. . .

Compare the Bashar photo to this shot of Jordan's King Abdullah, at a Special Operation Forces Exhibition held in March at a Jordanian airbase. On this basis alone, I'm betting that Abdullah outlasts Bashar.

Read Bashar Watch for the best of comparative analyses of the watch school. Now I would argue that the way a leader in question handles binoculars in general is a much better predictor of his chances for survival. Take for example Israel's defense minister during the war in Lebanon, Amir Peretz.

Here is Amir Peretrz watching military exercises after the war. He got a watch, so Kramer's theory does not apply here, but he got everything else wrong.

Amir Peretz seeing black

According to the reporter, our defense minister looked through the capped binoculars three times nodding in agreement as the new chief of stuff was explaining to him what's in view. After seeing this you are unlikely to be surprised too much by the outcome of that war or Peretz's short lived political career.

Unconvinced by either of the two leading schools on the subject? Then compare these, Peretz vs Bashar. Bashar is still there, but Peretz is already out.

This debate is getting even more fascinating when the fact is considered that when it comes to political leaders of the Arab World, the word outlast often should be taken literally. Bashar Assad knows it better than anybody else since he inherited Syria from his father.

Throughout the first years of the 1980s the Muslim Brotherhood and various other Islamist factions staged hit-and-run and bomb attacks against the government and its officials, including a nearly successful attempt to assassinate president Hafez al-Assad on June 26, 1980, during an official state reception for the president of Mali. When a machine-gun salvo missed him, al-Assad allegedly ran to kick a hand grenade aside, and his bodyguard (who survived and was later promoted to a much higher position) smothered the explosion of another one. Surviving with only light injuries, al-Assad's revenge was swift and merciless: only hours later a large number of imprisoned Islamists (most reports ranged from several hundred to approximately 1000) were murdered put to death in their cells in Tadmor Prison (near Palmyra), by units loyal to the president's brother Rifaat al-Assad.

Source: Wikipedia

April 29, 2011

Et tu, Bashar?

Thanks to Maysaloon for the links from his The Collector's Guide to Fine Arabic Propaganda. A new index is introduced to improve measuring the survivability of Arab leaders - the Arab propaganda index. The first video is a eulogy to the now imprisoned president Mubarak, while the second is dedicated to Gaddafi's son Khamis, though the daddy is never too far away. The videos are self explanatory as long as you remember that Hosni Mubarak was out after the first three weeks of the revolution, while two months since the beginning of the Libyan rebellion the NATO looks hopelessly stuck in Libya with its rebels struggling to advance a meter despite having Western powers as their private air force.

And here comes a propaganda clip Maysaloon picked for the man who Abu Rakun disparagingly refers to as Kitty the Younger. I don't think I need to elaborate on the point I am making here.

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Proclaimed Unknown at 6:22 PM


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Libya Slapstick Novel

Lat updated: April 26, 2011

April 17, 2011

Rebels in Benghazi with a huge poster: NO foreign intervention - Libyan People Can Manage It ALONE!

Published: April 17, 2011

On Saturday, the chief of staff of the Free Libya Forces, as the rebels style themselves, General Abdel Fattah Younes, told Al Arabiya television that their fighters were already in Brega and expected to conclude their capture of the city by Sunday.

“We are in a not-too-bad state of preparedness and our army fighters, youths and rebels are now doing a good job — and in the morning there will be good news,” Al Arabiya quoted General Younes as saying about Brega on Saturday.

. . .

. . .

Good news on Sunday

. . .

. . .

“Where are the NATO forces?” asked Absalam Hamid, who identified himself as a rebel captain. “We don’t know why they didn’t bomb them.” Strong winds and a sandstorm lowered visibility Sunday and may have made it difficult for air support to engage targets, although Captain Hamid said NATO planes had not been active the day before either, when government forces began advancing.

He turned around his pickup truck, which like many had a mounted heavy machine gun on the back, and headed toward Benghazi, followed by a dozen other vehicles. Some had rocket pods from helicopter gunships and jet fighters mounted on the rear of their pickup beds; others sported long rocket tubes, but no rockets to use in them.

“Where is America, where is France, we need Sarkozy,” one of the men shouted. “We have no army.”

Source: The New York Times

Abu Rakun told me that if I drop my Libyan links somewhere, by this act alone I would make an excellent novel. Indeed, it's since years that I did not laugh so much. Given that Facebook is not a good method for storing links, the comments section of this post is going to become the repository of my Libyan links. You are advised to check it from time to time. You are very likely to enjoy it.

Libya Slapstick Novel

April 26, 2011

US drones enter the fray in Libya

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States launched its first Predator drone strike in Libya on Saturday, the Defense Department said in a statement.

It did not provide details on the target of the strike, saying only that it occurred in the early afternoon local time in Libya.

Source: Reuters

US drones in action: No one gives you power because all of it is yours


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Proclaimed Unknown at 4:35 PM


Monday, April 11, 2011

Maikel Nabil was sentenced Monday to three years in prison for criticizing the military

April 11, 2011

Maikel Nabil was sentenced Monday to three years in prison for criticizing the military.

Egypt Sentences Blogger to 3 Years

Published: April 11, 2011

Mr. Ramadan said that a military tribunal had sentenced Mr. Nabil to serve his term in Tora Prison here. His lawyers and his family were barred from communicating with him after the sentencing.

Source: NYTimes

Here is his support group on FB: Free Maikel Nabil Sanad. Please support!

February 10, 2011

Faysal from the Thinking Lebanese on Bloomberg

The Thinking Lebanese blog was removed and they probably don't need it now anyway given that they switched to "blogging" on Bloomberg. However, the Silent is running another blog here and Faysal occasionally drops comments there too. So if you are missing the Thinking Lebanese blog, which in my view was the best Lebanese blog at the time, some bits of it are still live and kicking on the Silent's new page.

This revolution will be televised!

Sandmonkey tell his story on CNN

Sandmonkey talks to MSNBC

February 9, 2011

The Story of 2 Days I spent at the Egyptian Intelligence

Maikel Nabil asked us to share his story

February 3, 2011

Sandmonkey has been arrested and his blog closed

His last entry, via Lisa Goldman: Egypt, right now

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Proclaimed Unknown at 6:24 PM


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Oh the mess

Gaddafi supporters have erected human shields around Tripoli. Yet, the British have hit one of Gaddafi's compounds. I don't understand who is giving orders to bomb and what there. The impression is of some kind of anarchy. All they had to do is to tell Gaddafi to retreat some 50 miles away from Misurata and Benghazi and bomb him if he fails to comply. Instead they are bombing Tripoli while Misurata has been apparently overrun by Gaddafi forces right under their noses.

The US seems to have let itself be dragged into this for the sake of keeping alive the option of humanitarian interventions. Yet, the mission is exceeding its UN mandate so massively that everybody from the Arab League to India are distancing themselves from their mission now. The US says the UN is not to take part in fighting there, yet the French are trying to bomb a passage into Ajdabiya for the rebels. The French in particular seem to be on the loose. It's such a problematic and critical country for Europe and they are acting like amateurs. Hard to believe that this is what NATO has become.

Though I should notice that everything that preceded this operation, from the media spin about alleged Gaddafi's atrocities to the planning stage, was apparently no better. It was a mess from the beginning and it continues this way. This is likely the most mismanaged operation in NATO's history

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Proclaimed Unknown at 5:49 PM


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Next in line, please

This one continues my previous Next in line which became too long. Notice I don't cover everything since a while. This is a very selective coverage.

Last updated: March 20, 2011

March 2, 2011

Now bring the traitorous agent of the Jews to trial

This one is something you are not going to see reported on al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar and basically a baby of the local emir. MEMRI says dozens of thousands liked pages calling for a revolution against the traitorous agent of the Jews and Yankees. There seems to be no media coverage of Qatar in the mainstream media either. So MEMRI is going to be your al-Jazeera for Qatar.

Though it contains no clear doctrine or specific information regarding the aims of the revolution, or the manner in which it is to be conducted, the pictures and texts posted to the page indicate fierce protest against Qatar's foreign and domestic policies under the current emir, and against the actions of his wife, Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, and her involvement in the country's affairs of state. The page's profile picture shows the emir's photo with a large X on it, and bears the message, "For the sake of Qatar, bring the traitorous agent of the Jews to trial."

Source: MEMRI

Don't hold your breath, Qatar is the richest kingdom in the Gulf. Nevertheless, keep in mind that life is not without nice little surprises.

March 19, 2011

Keep Hope Alive

In general, I hate when people don't wait and push themselves into the queue. In particular, after I had everybody lined up in an orderly fashion. However, for Syria, any time and every time.

Frankly, I don't hold my breath, but maybe there are things for which even I don't dare to hope. I bet it's not for nothing that doctors always recommend to hope for better.

March 20, 2011

The watch school triumphs as the lion blinks

The protests in Syria having gone into their third day, the watch school triumphs as the lion of the Golan blinks...

An official statement said "infiltrators" claiming to be high ranking officers had been visiting security stations and asking security forces to fire at any suspicious gathering.

Citizens should report anyone suspected of trying to fool the security apparatus "into using violence and live ammunition against any suspicions gathering," the statement said.

Source: Reuters

With your kind permission, ya lion of the Julan, let me solemnly declare that from now on anybody who orders to or actually shoots at the protesters is an infiltrator. Yallah open the floodgates!

The second tsunami hits the shore. Everybody, please seek a higher ground

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Proclaimed Unknown at 8:55 PM


Friday, March 18, 2011

Shalom Pearl

The most bizarre installment in my Shalom Haver sequel. Bahrain's famous landmark is gone amidst a fierce Saudi and Bahraini crackdown on a Shia rebellion that was raging on the island during the last weeks.

I have no idea what to say about this, but in this region symbols are important and we told you so. You've been WARNED!

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Proclaimed Unknown at 8:04 PM


Sunday, March 13, 2011

The mad dog of the Middle East and the Chihuahuas of the West

“Let’s just call a spade a spade,” Mr. Gates said. “A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that’s the way it starts.”

Source: NYTimes

Therefore, a no-fly zone would begin with airstrikes on known air defense sites. But it would likely continue with sustained patrols by SEAD aircraft armed with anti-radiation missiles poised to rapidly confront any subsequent threat that pops up. Keeping those aircraft on station for an extended period of time would be necessary, along with an unknown number of strikes. It is uncertain where the radars and missiles are located, and those airstrikes would not be without error. When search radars and especially targeting radars are turned on, the response must be instantaneous, while the radar is radiating (and therefore vulnerable) and before it can engage. That means there will be no opportunity to determine whether the sites are located in residential areas or close to public facilities such as schools or hospitals.

Source: Stratfor

CROWLEY: You know what? President Reagan called Muammar Qaddafi the mad dog of the Middle East. Well, the mad dog of the Middle East just met the Chihuahua of the West in President Obama.

Source: FoxNews

From one of the Time's blogs here comes am amateur map of Libyan air defenses created using Google Earth and .. well, and just Google search. According to the blog, Pentagon officials say that the map is "a pretty good snapshot of the Libyan air-defense network".

Source: Swampland

As you probably know, during the last week the forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi have overrun the rebel-held az Zawiyah and Ras Lanuf. The rebel force between Ras Lanouf and Brega appears collapsing and at this rate Gaddafi's forces may soon start marching on Benghazi itself. Naturally, as the regime forces intensify pressure on the rebels, the controversy around the no fly zone grows more intense both internationally and domestically within the US and Europe. So here is the map of the Libyan SAM network again with a map of Libya's cities below.

What you should do is to locate the city of Ras Lanuf on both maps since this is where the rebels and regime forces are currently fighting each other. By juxtaposing the two maps, you should then find the next concentration of air defenses to the right. It basically overlaps with the city of Benghazi, currently under the control of the opposition. The next air defense bases are the cities of Darna and Tobruk, but everything to the east of Benghazi seems to be in the opposition hands. Basically you don't have air defenses anywhere near Ras Lanuf for the very simple reason that the Libyan SAM network is designed to protect big cities such as Tripoli and Benghazi. Neither to the left you have any air defenses until you reach the city of Misratah. Given that Misratah is presently under the opposition control, it's not even obvious that its SAM defenses are operational.

What's the moral of the story? There may exist many reasons why the West should try to avoid getting drawn into the business of setting up no-fly zones over Libya. However, from the purely military perspective a no-fly zone is a pretty safe business. The country is huge, but for most practical purposes Libya is no more than a highway and a string of port cities along the coast. The fighting mostly goes in two locations. The first one is a point on the Benghazi Tripoli axis where Gaddafi and rebel forces are facing each other, right now it's Brega and Ras Lanuf. The second one is a rebel enclave in Gaddafi's backyard around the city of Misratah.

Basically, the rebels are not interested in any no-fly zone over Tripoli since they don't control the capital anyway. The opposition needs only two limited no-fly zones over Ras Lanuf and Misratah. This a very small area to monitor and control. As far as Ras Lanuf is concerned there are no air defenses there at all and it's not obvious that those of Misratah are operational. From the opposition's perspective, if NATO can stop the advance of Gaddafi's forces towards Benghazi along the coast, the rebels are safe everywhere except Misratah.

Stratfor seems to have spotted a multitude of potential difficulties in Libya, but in reality it's the easiest topography for military operations one can find around. The terrain is flat and the rival forces are operating along a highway near the coast, Gadaffi's forces and their armor being totally exposed to attacks from the air.

Basically, all NATO has to do is to position a couple of US carriers opposite Misratah and Ras Lanuf at the distance of a few minutes of of flight from the shore, and wait for a call from the rebels or an alert from an AWACS system. Gaddafi fighter planes can be grounded by destroying runways on government controlled airports. Helicopters are not fast enough to get away anyway. The rebels were apparently also requesting air strikes against armor and artillery positions. It's hard to see why these should be challenging targets for NATO planes. As an extra bonus, all rebel strongholds are port cities that can be easily resupplied with food and fuel from the sea, no land access and ground troops are needed.

Of course it's none of the NATO business to assist the rebels in retaking cities. Winning the civil war is the rebels responsibility. But there is no military challenge in imposing a couple of coastal mini no-fly zones with a view of blocking Gaddafi's advances to the east and protecting Misratah. Targeting tanks and vehicles moving across an open area is an exercise for beginning pilots. Neither ground troops are required, nor a massive air campaign. It's a matter of political will only. No fear! Forward, Obamahuas!

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Proclaimed Unknown at 1:49 AM