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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Sep 20th
Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Analysis arrow The View From Damascus
The View From Damascus PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ayman Abdel Nour   
Sunday, 05 October 2008

Ayman Abdel Nour
Ayman Abdel Nour

On the morning of Sept. 27, according to the official statement, a GMC Suburban with Iraqi license plates, stuffed with 200 kilograms of explosives, blew up on the road between Damascus, Syria, and the airport, killing 17 civilians and causing 14 injuries.
The statement noted that the attack occurred in an area full of civilians, but failed to mention that the bomb went off just meters away from a branch of the Mukhabarat, the government's internal security and intelligence agency, creating a gaping hole in the wall surrounding the building.
The way the Syrian government handled publicity surrounding the attack is telling. In addition to omitting the existence of the Mukhabarat building, official press releases mentioned several times that all of those killed and injured were civilians--until Web sites published the name of a general, George Garbi, who was killed in the blast, after which the official line was changed.
The government television station went to the scene of the blast, as did the government daily newspaper Al Thawra. Together they interviewed many eyewitnesses, but all of the coverage neglected the existence of the internal intelligence building.
This notable absence in the coverage suggests a regime that does not want it known that anyone would dare challenge the security apparatus. In the minds of Syrians, the Mukhabarat has a legendarily fearsome reputation, instilled through its crackdowns on intellectuals and journalists on the one hand, and on Islamic movements on the other.
The government has kept other recent conflicts quiet too--in recent months there have been government raids, resulting in arrests, on farms outside of Syrian cities that were being used to store arms and ammunition.
The regime doesn't want the international attention that the appearance of internal strife would bring. And inside the country, it doesn't want to look as though it is following U.S. orders to attack militants. That would just aggravate its tenuous relationship with Syria's various Islamic movements. A leader of one of those groups, Sheikh Abou Al Kakaa of Aleppo, was assassinated last year by an Iraqi who accused him of selling out the mujahideen to the Syrian government.
In a statement Sept. 29, the government's official news agency said that "the terrorist who blew himself up in a car is a member of an organization, many of whose members have been arrested before." There is speculation in Damascus that this is an oblique reference to Shaker Al Absi, leader of the group Fateh Al Islam.
Members of Al Absi's organization have tried to avenge his capture on several occasions. So the government may have intended to suggest that Fateh Al Islam orchestrated the car bomb.
All of these hushed-up incidents are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what could happen in Syria. The number of extremists in the region is growing, both due to the political situation in the greater region--in Iraq and Palestine especially--and the economic situation inside Syria, where citizens grapple with poverty, unemployment, corruption and growing income disparities.
Even as cracks appear, the government wants desperately for things to look under control. Prominent players in the Syrian economy want more peace and prosperity in the region, which would help them expand into cross-border partnerships. It's hard to do business internationally when you come from a pariah nation and your U.S. assets are in danger of being frozen.
Going forward, the regime will probably focus on improving foreign relations with Saudi Arabia. Indeed, a few days after the car bomb attack, Syria's President Bashar Al Assad announced in a Lebanese newspaper that "conciliation with Saudi Arabia is important, and we have no interest in continuing frosty relations." The regime will also aim to cooperate with the Lebanese government, continue negotiations with Israel and enhance relations with European Union member states.
And it will bank on Barack Obama becoming president of the United States. The Syrian regime is trying to reach out to his advisers, among them Robert Maly, Daniel Kurtz and Hernando de Soto, all of whom it has officially invited to Syria.
An imprimatur of softening relations with the U.S. and the rest of the world would create an international atmosphere that is supportive of the Syrian regime. It would also give the regime shelter, allowing it to use force against its militant enemies, and even against civil society, without generating a global outcry.
Ayman Abdel Nour is the editor-in-chief of All4Syria, a Web site based in Damascus.


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