Assad Speech II – (16 April 2011)



The president’s speech yesterday was about a good as Bashar al-Assad could have done. If Assad’s first speech did him no favors, this one served him well. I was apprehensive at first when I saw him speaking without a written script, as he does not seem to have a professional speech writing staff that he trusts. But ultimately he was well served to show his personality, which is appealing. He was straight forward, serious and showed a studied understanding of the countries problems and his regimes short comings. He began by recognizing the “fajwa” or gap that separates the people from the regime. This may have been the single most important line of his talk. The rest was to explain why that gap existed and what he would do to close it. He spoke about the “karama” or dignity of the people – also very important.

We had all been watching the video of the hateful way that the men of al-Bayda near Banyas had been treated by the security agents from the neighboring town. They were laid face down in the central square of the town and trampled on by the security forces who accused them of being “khowna” or traitors.

President Assad apologized for the blood that had been spilled. He said that all the fallen – both security and protesters – were martyrs.

He then went on to outline the many serious  problems the country faces – poverty, joblessness, corruption, state institutions that are unresponsive to peoples needs, etc. He showed a keen understanding of the problems he faces.

Many will brush this speech off as being simply “more of the same.” There was no promise of regime-change or of political reforms that could be tantamount to regime change, such as deleting article 8 of the constitution that would eliminate the Baath party’s monopoly on power. It will not be enough to head off new protests, which activists said reached their biggest numbers just the day before when a column of tens of thousands marched from the Damascus suburbs in a bold effort to occupy one of the capital’s central squares. They were beaten back by security forces on Friday night, witnesses said.

“He is repeating an old speech, this is nothing new,” said Razan Zeitouneh,an activist with the Syrian Human Rights Information Link. “He mentioned dignity several times, but he didn’t mention who it is violating the people’s dignity.”

For those who continue to believe in the possibility of reform and not regime-change, this speech was reassuring. It may keep the silent majority from joining the protesters – at least for the time being.

Here are the views given by a number of commentators directly following the President’s speech:

Majed: I liked the speech but I simply do not trust the regime, we have to wait and see. No violence and no sectarian slogans please. We are all Syrians .

Rami: I will be happy when all political prisoners are released and other measures promised becoming the law of the land. People want maher acting as the brother of the president ,not as a military commander,and asef serving as a brother in law,and not as a spy chief,and rami focusing on spending his money instead of making more at the expense of syrians. Bashar is probably the least violent and the least corrupt but his family needs to leave us alone.things may finally be on the right track but it is too early to celebrate .

Fadi: The speech today may have returned the regime close to the place it was at before the first speech in terns of popularity but the work start now. People are watching closely. They felt their power and will not tolerate the old 1-step-forward 2-steps-back approach anymore.

Nadik: Today is a historic day. The president was perfect. Abous chawarbak ya bashar. If he actually follow through with the polictical reforms and allow press and demonstration we can say this is the beginning of a real baath. Thank you the heros of Daraa. again, you gave your blood for the freedom of syria. I want to point to 2 very positive signals in the speech.

  1. He mentioned the mouamara but then dismiseed focusing on it and said the right thing is to focus on people demand and that will combat the mouamara.

  2. He used the word karama many time and this is a key demand.  Recognising this is the beginning of dialog.

Majhool: The people will not stop protesting until

  1. All political prisoners are out

  2. Illegal Security forces dismantled.

  3. Syriatel stripped away from Makhlouf

  4. Atef Najeeb punished, preferably a capital punishment.

  5. Allowing all exiled syrians to come back.

  6. No More Baath.

Assad hinted that demonstrations will be considered sabotage once reforms are enacted. People will not accept that threat, until the average joe is 1000% convinced that the government is sincere they will continue on.

Naji: good coverage of ALL the key points that needed to be addressed and answered almost all the demands of the protests (except article 8 of the constitution)in a serious measurable way…! Chapeau…for now! At least he indicated that he knew the actual problems and what’s needed to immediately address them… Now whether it is realistically possible to accomplish this with the current power structure, even with the best of intentions, is something we will have to wait and see! Still, hopefully whatever reforms they manage to accomplish will enable a more civilized dialogue and better chances for the next step…

Jad: it’s much better than the first one:

  1. Declaring all the Syrians who died as martyrs

  2. -Emergency law to be removed next week

  3. -Engage the public as Ehsani’s suggested

  4. -New media law is under work

  5. -Explain the economic challenges without unrealistic expectation

  6. -Transparency between citizens and ministers on all decisions

  7. -More strict monitoring over government contract

  8. -Monitor of the senior position personnels’ wealth before and after being in the government as a way to fight corruption

  9. -E government to fight lower level corruption

  10. -DOMESTIC issues are number one priorities for all ministers.

No mention for article 8, but as NK wrote, that will be the next step

Michel Kilo: نعم، لا بد من حل سياسي! This is an important article by Michel Kilo – one of the most articulate reformers who led the “Damascus Declaration” movement of 2005 and spent 5 years in jail for his courageous leadership. He advocates reform rather than regime-change and separates himself from the more radical element of the opposition.

هيثم مناع – هيثم مناع في حوار مفتوح حول: انتفاضة الكرامة والتغير الديمقراطي في سوريا – Haytham Mana`a on al-Jazeera talking about the “karama” revolution and democracy.

Ehsani2 reports:

Banks in Syria paying as high as 8 percent for one year Syrian pound deposits. There is no liquidity, People are pulling syp deposits from banks. They are stuffing them in mattresses or changing them into dollars. The withdrawl of deposits from banks is causing the banks to have to pay up to entice peole to bring back their money. before the events, banks were paying around 5% for syp deposits as they had lots of it. Now that its leaving the banking system, they are having to pay 7-8% to make sure their assets (loans) and covered by enough deposits. Another way to look at it is that the 3% jump in deposit rates, is to make up for a 3% devaluation expectation. people are rationale. they feel changing syp into $ makes sense for now.

Two days ago was the first session in past 4 where the syrian stocks finally stabilized. At least they stopped falling today.

Al-Jazeera report on the demonstrations in Syria this Friday.

Syrian security forces have dispersed thousands of protesters marching towards central Damascus from the suburb of Douma, witnesses say.

Haitham al-Maleh, an activist and lawyer, told Al Jazeera on Friday that protesters were close to Abasyeen Square when the intelligence services brought several buses carrying men with “pistols and sticks” who attacked protesters. He said those injured were taken away by medics.

Other sources said security forces used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

“I counted 15 mukhabarat [secret police] busloads. They went into the alleyways just north of the square chasing protesters and yelling ‘You pimps, you infiltrators, you want freedom? We will give it to you!’,” a witness told Reuters news agency.

Elsewhere in the capital, violence reportedly erupted when dozens of armed men in plainclothes surrounded about 250 protesters rallying in front of the Salam mosque in Barzeh district.

Thousands were also demonstrating in the southern city of Daraa. Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin said security forces were not visible in the city, and that the protesters were being allowed to hold their demonstration.

“It’s a completely different scene from last Friday when more than 26 people were killed during protests and clashes with the security forces and protesters here. People went out after Friday prayers … in thousands. They were marching carrying olive branches saying ‘Peaceful’ [and] ’Freedom’. Some were demanding the toppling of the regime, others were saying they just want reforms,” she reported from Daraa.

“It comes one day after a delegation from Daraa met with President Bashar al-Assad in an attempt by the government to calm the situation … In Daraa, these measures seem to have calmed the situation a little bit. People say the president promised them very specific reforms that will be announced very soon, maybe as early as next week.”

Authorities Seize Huge Weapons Consignment Bound for Syria,  Apr 17, 2011 SANA

Averroes writes in the comment section:

I tried posting a couple of entries on the “Syrian Revolution against Bashar 2011″ on Facebook. I was polite, and just asked why not give reforms a chance, and that kind of thing.

It took 6 minutes, and I was thrown out and my entries deleted.

Very democratic, and a great indication of what’s to come if these guys take over.

Omran writes:

i agree with others, when we Syrians who are for president Bashar and his reform efforts comment on Syrian so call revolution page LOL our comments are deleted as soon as they realize that we support Syria and Bashar al-Asad. why?? if they are calling for freedom and want all Syrians to engage in this freedom shouldn’t they listen to the millions of Syrians who support Bashar???

From Damascus, a friend writes that my post about the Nine Soldiers killed in Banyas got”front page coverage in today’s copy of Tishreen (Sat. 16 April) under the headline:

الصحافة الغربية استخدمت روايات بقدر كبير من انعدام المسؤولية والمهنة

And the surtitle:

خبير أميركي يؤكد أنها تعرضت للتضليل في تغطية أحداث بانياس

WikiLeaks: Hariri Urged Ending Assad Regime, Khaddam and Muslim Brotherhood to fill Void

Caretaker PM Saad Hariri believed that the Syrian and Iranian regimes are the obstacles behind the deteriorating peace process in the Middle East, revealed a WikiLeakes cable published in al-Akhbar newspaper on Friday.

Hariri stated that Israel is “protecting” the Syrian regime because it fears the unknown.

The leaked U.S. Embassy cable dated August 24, 2006, reported that he believed “weakening Syria will force Iran to work on its own.”

Hariri said during a meeting with a U.S. foreign ministry official and another diplomat in the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon, that isolating Syria and imposing a siege on it would cut Iran’s link to Lebanon and Palestine “where it is creating problems.”

He stressed: “Saudi Arabia and other Arabian countries have gotten fed up with Bashar… and are not interested in getting engaged in a dialogue with Damascus.”

“We need to put an end to the Syrian regime… All conflicts will end when this regime is abolished,” he continued.

When asked about who can fill the void if the regime falls, he stated that “collaboration between the Muslim Brotherhood and some of the officials that were part of the old regime, such as former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam and former Syrian Chief of Staff Hikmat al-Shihabi” could assume control in Syria.

Hariri stressed that the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria is similar to the moderate Islamists in Turkey, explaining: “They will allow a Christian or a woman to become president. They even support a peace agreement with Israel.”

He expressed fears over Iranian intervention in the region, saying: “Syria is only part of a bigger problem which is Iran, which supports Islamist groups like Hizbullah and Hamas.”

The Mustaqbal Movement leader said that Iran and Syria are smuggling arms to Hizbullah through land borders not by sea or air.

Hariri questioned the usefulness of providing the Lebanese army with weapons to serve as an obstacle to Hizbullah when “its ammunition won’t last more than four hours.”

He added that he will cut all ties with Hizbullah, saying: “We want it to change its behavior and hand over its weapons, or it will have a problem with me.”

In another leaked cable dated September 27, 2006, Hariri noted that Lebanon only requires “light weapons and some helicopters to impose its sovereignty over all its territory.”

He believed that the residents of the South will turn against Hizbullah once the Lebanese army is deployed in the area as they will realize that the Lebanese authorities can help resolve their problems, not Hizbullah, which is only “an Iranian infiltrator.”

Syrians Renew Protests Despite Concessions
By LIAM STACK and KATHERINE ZOEPF – April 15, 2011

CAIRO — Protesters turned out again in large numbers in cities across Syria on Friday to demand reforms, defying a nationwide crackdown in which dozens of demonstrators have been killed by security forces. The marches on Friday were met with tear gas, beatings and reports of gunfire. Seeking to tamp down the unrest, the government of President Bashar al-Assad had announced several measures on Thursday that were meant to mollify demonstrators.

Tens of thousands of protesters marched into Damascus from its restive suburbs on Friday afternoon, said Razan Zeitouneh, a human rights activist. It was the first time that a protest that large had been seen in the capital, which the government had managed to hold in a tense calm for weeks. The protesters chanted “Freedom! Freedom!” and “The people want to overthrow the regime!” as they moved along. Ms. Zeitouneh estimated that the march began with 20,000 people in Doumathe, the site of large protests each of the last two weekends, and passed through a string of suburbs including Harasta and Arbeen.

Security forces responded with live ammunition and tear gas, she said, but it was unclear how effective those measures were. At midday, the march was continuing to push toward Abasseyeen Square in the heart of Damascus. By the time it reached the city limits, it had snowballed into a potentially serious challenge for the government of Mr. Assad, whose 11-year rule has been badly shaken by weeks of unrest. The security forces’ seeming inability to keep groups of protesters in different suburbs from joining into a large demonstration was ominous for the government, activists said.

Beyond the capital, there were reports of sizable protests in Homs and other cities and in the besieged southern town of Dara’a, which has been isolated behind a tight security cordon since the early days of unrest in mid-March.

A friend who lives in Aleppo is traveling through the Grab. He writes:

Hi Joshua,  Aljazeera is reporting largely peaceful anti-regime demonstrations in several cities today. We were driving down the Ghab plain today and were surprised to run across a small moped-borne protest, calling for “hurriya”, and kids chanting anti-regime slogans in another town (before being shushed by their elders). First time we’ve come across something like this in such a rural area; maybe it is spreading. (we’re going to check out the mountains the next few days).

Comment on this video of security forces mistreating protesters at al-Bayda شام – قرية البيضه – تعامل قوات الأمن مع الأهالي 12-4-2011
This video is monumental now. ALL satellite TVs are showing nonstop today, given that there is no major events in other capitals today. Today has been dedicated to Syria.

Such a video removed any goodwill that yesterday’s decisions and efforts have created. I’m more convinced than ever that this is a war going on within the regime. These guys should be brought to justice immediately and swiftly. This should be made public today or it will be fuel for recruitment for weeks to come.

If bashar takes other good steps today or tomorrow then I think April 17 will be decisive. I think there would be massive pro demonstrations if cards are played right.

Another comment:

I think it indicates two things:

1. It purposely released to tell the opposition leaders, or whoever sent these young people, that see what happens to your boys? It is a strong message to those future recruits. The relese of this video is no accident.

2. It is also an internal message to those on top in Syria. It’s a message that the security forces (Maher’s clans) that we will do whatever we have to do. Im sure Bashar is not going to be happy seeing it, but Maher would be elated. This is going to be a video of great importance.

Syria’s young cyber activists keep protests in view – Guardian.

One commentator: If you put yourself in the shoes of your average young Arab or anyone anywhere, who wouldn’t sympathize with these activists, regardless if you think they know what they’re doing or not. regardless where this leads to! The war for public opinion is almost impossible to win by the regime. their only hope are the people who still support them genuinely inside Syria. They need to keep winning their hearts and minds by quick and meaningful reforms coupled with a charm offensive.

Maybe this is the reason: Cal Perry, Aljazeera English corespondent in Syria just tweeted:

“The meeting between the Pres. and the delegation from #Deraa has concluded. The delegation tells us they are “happy with the outcome”#Syria

100 prisoners released the town #Bayda near #Banias after yesterday’s sit in. #Syria

Assad Approves Syrian Cabinet in Wake of Protests
By Massoud A. Derhally and Alaa Shahine, Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 14 (Bloomberg) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad approved the formation of a new government under Adel Safar almost two weeks after the prime minister was named to replace an administration that resigned after deadly protests.

In addition, Assad ordered the release of people detained during political protests that started about a month ago and who did not “commit criminal acts,” the state-run SANA news agency reported. The government agency didn’t say how many would be released or indicate how many people were detained by the authorities.

In the cabinet shake-up, Mohammad al-Jalilati replaced Finance Minister Mohammad al-Hussein, while Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem and Energy Minister Sufian Alao retained their positions in the new government, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported today. Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Abdallah Dardari, who isn’t from the ruling Baath party, was removed. Mohammad Ibrahim Shaar was named interior minister, overseeing the country’s security.

Safar, who will be joined in the cabinet by a total of 30 lawmakers, was agriculture minister in the cabinet of Muhammad Naji Otri. Otri quit March 29 following demonstrations that have been the strongest challenge to Assad’s rule since he inherited power from his father in 2000. In a March 30 speech, Assad told parliament that political changes are under way and that Syria won’t be rushed. He also said the protests were a conspiracy….

The Syrian counter-revolution has an anthem now… “ضد البلد”!

Best chants today were in Reef Dimashq villages:

بدنا نحكي عالمكشوف. لا ذو الهمة ولا مخلوف

بدنا نحكي عالمكشوف. حرامية ما بدنا نشوف

‘U.S. Says Iran Helps Crackdown in Syria
By Adam Entous And Matthew Rosenberg 14 April 2011, The Wall Street Journal

Iran is secretly helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad put down pro-democracy demonstrations, according to U.S. officials, who say Tehran is providing gear to suppress crowds and assistance blocking and monitoring protesters’ use of the Internet, cellphones and text-messaging.

At the same time, communications intercepted by U.S. spy agencies show Tehran is actively exploring ways to aid some Shiite hardliners in Bahrain and Yemen and destabilize longstanding U.S. allies there, say U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence. Such moves could challenge interests of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and inflame sectarian tensions across the Middle East, they say.

“We believe that Iran is materially assisting the Syrian government in its efforts to suppress their own people,” said an Obama administration official.

U.S. officials say they don’t see Iran as the driving force behind popular revolts against longtime U.S. allies in the Mideast, and caution they have no concrete evidence that Iran is providing or preparing large-scale financial or military support to opposition elements in Bahrain or Yemen.

Rather, the White House has worried that protracted political turmoil could provide an opening for additional influence by Tehran, whose nuclear ambitions are a concern to the U.S. and its allies in Europe and the Middle East.

So far, an administration official said, Iranian “aspirations far outpace their ability to project their influence into these places.”

By disclosing intelligence about Iranian involvement, the U.S. appears to be trying to put Tehran on notice that it is under close surveillance in Washington. “We’re keeping an eye on these activities,” another Obama administration official said……

Strong report of the Deraa violence of Friday by Human Rights Watch Asserts that government authorities prevented medical care from reaching wounded and other for committing other human rights violations in Deraa.

The Syrian Government has denied that its troops prevented ambulances from reaching wounded.

The student that “Syrian revolution” page on Facebook claimed was killed in the demonstration at the Univ of  Damascus – speaks out, explaining that he is in good health.

Associated Press news agency said the Damascus Declaration, Syria’s leading pro-democracy group, had urged leaders of the Arab League to impose sanctions on al-Assad’s government, and put the death toll from the unrest at more than 200.

Easter celebrations in Syria are canceled by “the heads of Syria’s Churches” due to the turmoil and deaths

بيان صادر عن رؤساء الكنائس المسيحية في دمشق

نظراً للظروف الاستثنائية العصيبة التي يمر بها الوطن الحبيب سورية، وإكراماً لأرواح الشهداء الأطهار والضحايا الأبرار الذين سقطوا في الأحداث الأليمة مؤخراً، وتعبيراً عن وحدة أبناء الشعب السوري الأبي، وترسيخاً للحمة الوطنية، ستقتصر احتفالاتنا في أعياد الفصح المجيد على الصلوات والطقوس الدينية في الكنائس فقط، مصلين إلى السيد المسيح القائم من بين الأموات، أن يمنَّ على وطننا العزيز بالأمن والسلام، وأن يُعيد هذا العيد المبارك على سورية قيادةً وشعباً بالخير واليُمن والبركات.

Understanding Syria’s unrest
By a correspondent in Damascus, who wishes not to have his/her named used.

Asad’s Lost Chances by Carsten Wieland | published April 13, 2011. Middle East Report

…Just after the US invasion of Iraq, in May 2003, many observers pricked up their ears in surprise when a central regime figure commended the Syrian opposition for its prudence. Bahjat Sulayman, the powerful former head of Syrian intelligence, wrote in the Lebanese newspaper al-Safir, “In Syria, the regime does not have enemies but ‘opponents’ whose demands do not go beyond certain political and economic reforms such as the end of the state of emergency and martial law; the adoption of a law on political parties; and the equitable redistribution of national wealth.” [1] Forcible regime change, Sulayman knew, was only on the agenda of select exiles and US politicians. But President Asad treated the Civil Society Movement intellectuals, with their debating clubs and talk of a soft landing for Syria’s transition away from authoritarianism, like a gang of criminals…..

Antoun Issa, Democracy’s price may be too high for Syria, 14 April 2011 – Australia’s ABC.

Christopher Phillips comments on President’s Assad’s perceived weakness.

Whither Syria • Bitter Lemons

. At the point of no return Nizar Abdel-Kader
The Assad regime does not have effective means to find a long-term solution.

• A twist in Syria’s sobriety Rime Allaf
Syrians have already achieved phenomenal changes, despite paying a heavy price.

• Paying lip service to resistance does not provide immunityKarim Emile Bitar
Foreign powers may allow the Syrian regime to survive or at least gain time.

• Weathering the storm Elias Samo
With prompt reforms, Assad will survive the domestic challenge.

Syria’s national tire factory closes – Story here in al-Iqtisad – One readers comments below:


Statement from President Obama on the Violence in Syria – April 8, 2011

I strongly condemn the abhorrent violence committed against peaceful protesters by the Syrian government today and over the past few weeks. I also condemn any use of violence by protesters. The United States extends our condolences to the families and loved ones of all the victims. I call upon the Syrian authorities to refrain from any further violence against peaceful protestors. Furthermore, the arbitrary arrests, detention, and torture of prisoners that has been reported must end now, and the free flow of information must be permitted so that there can be independent verification of events on the ground.

Throughout this time of upheaval, the American people have heard the voices of the Syrian people, who have demonstrated extraordinary courage and dignity, and who deserve a government that is responsive to their aspirations. Syrians have called for the freedoms that individuals around the world should enjoy: freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; and a government that is transparent and free of corruption. These rights are universal, and they must be respected in Syria.

Until now, the Syrian government has not addressed the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. Violence and detention are not the answer to the grievances of the Syrian people. It is time for the Syrian government to stop repressing its citizens and to listen to the voices of the Syrian people calling for meaningful political and economic reforms.

Syrian Central Bank Says Bank Lending Grows 16.5% in 2010
2011-04-12 By Lina Ibrahim

April 12 (Bloomberg) — Syrian bank lending grew by 16.5 percent in 2010 to 1.2 trillion pounds ($25.3 billion), mainly by state-owned lenders, the Central Bank of Syria said in a report posted on its website today. Loans by six state-owned banks accounted for 78 percent of total loans compared with 83 percent a year earlier, it said. Syrian banks held deposits totalling 1.4 trillion pounds by the end of 2010, a 16.7 percent increase, according to the report.

Le régime syrien cherche à entraîner la population dans une guerre civile
Ignace Leverrier, ancien diplomate, chercheur arabisant
LEMONDE.FR | 06.04.11 |

Pendant qu’il en est encore temps, l’opinion publique internationale doit ouvrir les yeux sur la situation en Syrie. Ce qui s’y prépare en silence loin des regards est d’une extrême gravité. Il s’agit ni plus ni moins, de la part d’un régime à bout de ressources politiques et dont le seul argument réside dans l’emploi de la force, que de pousser les Syriens à bout. Il veut les contraindre, soit à renoncer à leurs aspirations à la liberté, soit à recourir à la violence. Il lui sera alors facile de travestir la demande de démocratie de la jeunesse syrienne en un “soulèvement confessionnel”. Et il justifiera par la “protection de l’unité nationale” l’emploi contre les manifestants d’une violence d’autant plus grande que sa peur aura été intense…..

The Syria peace myth
Op-ed: Latest developments in Syria prove that talk of peace with Assad family was baseless
Guy Bechor, 04.10.11, 14:13 / Israel Opinion – Ynet

A terrible thing happened to an entire sector in Israel – the politicians, former military men and experts who for dozens of years kept on talking about making peace with the Assad family. The option of such agreement with Syria is off the agenda now, and moreover, it turns out that it was a false alternative that would have damaged Israel greatly had it been realized.

For some 40 years they told us that peace with the Alawite family ruling Syria will bring us peace with the entire Arab world. Later they told us that such peace deal would restrain Lebanon and Hezbollah. After that they said that a deal would sever the ties between Syria and Iran. And after all that we were told that we didn’t make enough effort to appease Damascus.

All of this was accompanied with a certain degree of romanticism and admiration for the Assad family; the father, the son and the holy spirit. Yet all of these stories were baseless…..

Jerusalem Post: ‘Wikileaks’: Syria aimed chemical weapons at Israel, 2011-04-16

Syria placed long-range chemical weapons on its border with Israel in 2007 in response to Israeli destruction of one of their nuclear reactors, ‘Wikileaks’ documents reveal. The existence of the missiles was discussed in a March 2008 meeting with …

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