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Monday, May 14, 2007

Syria takes a green light on repression

About six weeks ago, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (pictured at top left) led a Congressional delegation on a tour of the repressive Syrian regime. Ten days ago, US Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice met with Syrian foreign minister Walid Moallem on the sidelines of a conference on Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh. In today's Jerusalem Post, Professor Barry Rubin looks at some of the 'results' of kissing up to the Syrian regime:
Mamoun Homsi is a courageous pro-democracy activist who had been one of the few independent members of Syria's puppet parliament. In March 2002 he was thrown out of the legislature and sentenced to five years in prison. As he was dragged off to jail, Homsi shouted, "This is a badge of honor to me and others like me. Long live the people!"

Released after four years in 2006, Homsi immediately left the country, saying there was no possibility of changing the regime by reform, and that any criticism would bring more imprisonment.

Homsi wrote Pelosi a letter urging her not to visit Syria as such a step would only strengthen the regime. Last week, the government seized all of his assets in the country, leaving his family destitute.

KAMAL LABWANI, head of the Liberal Democratic Gathering, visited the US in 2005, including meetings with human rights‚ groups and a trip to the White House. He told the Americans he saw that he would be arrested once he got back home. Sure enough, the Syrian police grabbed him at Damascus airport in November 2005.

But he was not tried. After all, the regime reasoned, perhaps the US might get even tougher with Syria if they repressed a man who had just been a White House guest. Last week, confident that the current administration and its presumed Democratic successors were caving in, the government sentenced Labwani to life imprisonment, which was "kindly" commuted to 12 years with hard labor.

The charge? "Inciting a foreign state to attack Syria."

That's not all. Anwar al-Bunni, a lawyer and another brave dissident, knew what held Syria back from crushing any dissent. Back in 2003 he explained: "The government's fear that it will be next on America's 'regime change' list may make it wary of committing gross violations of human rights... Some of us say that it is only because of what America did in Iraq, the fright it gave our rulers, that we reformers stand a chance here."

Bunni was proven right. Once Syria no longer had any fear, the regime sentenced him to five years' imprisonment.

On Sunday, three democracy activists were sentenced to three to 10 years in prison, including Michel Kilo. An articulate journalist who most clearly expressed the hope of peaceful change in Syria, Kilo was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of "spreading false news" and "weakening national feeling."
Blogger Harry's Place notes that the basis for the charges against Kilo, who was sentenced along with activist Mahmoud Issa, was that they signed a petition(!) last year calling on Syria to seek better relations with Lebanon.

Syrian blogger Ammar Abdulhamid - now living in the Washington DC area - is decidedly pessimistic:
The trials of the past four years to be specific also serve to demonstrate that unless there is a consistent long-term international consensus for isolating such rogue regimes, the situation will almost always end in their favor, for managing external crises is a skill that these regimes have had plenty of time to develop and hone. Meanwhile, the situation can always be used as an excuse for a continuing internal crackdown on basic liberties, and all signs of dissent.

So, and as the US gradually turns its attention inward and gets immersed again with the usual partisan politics of the elections, the belligerence of the Syrian regime, and all others in the region, just look at the continuing crackdown against bloggers in Egypt and Bahrain and the arrest of Haleh Esfandiari in Iran, will only increase. The lion will continue to devour the flock, with an appetite rendered more voracious with rage.

Do all dictators have to look like Saddam or Ahmadinejad to be convincing? Isn’t their record of misdeeds enough, especially when it reads more like a rap sheet?

No. Not in partisan America, where image is everything. So long as the voracious lion looks like a lanky smiling gentle-looking giraffe, who is often accompanied by an equally lanky smiling gentle-looking wife, the American public can be allowed to be fooled. The pundits have spoken.

It is clear now that Bashar is going to have a joyride though the American media over the next few months, and will receive a kiddy glove treatment by most pundits even while his goons deliver stiff jail terms to dissidents in contravention to all international norms in this regard.

And why should they not behave with such impunity, they have just been “engaged?”

Anwar, Kamal and soon Michel, are the first casualties of engagement. And that’s only the beginning.
But Israel's defenseless 'defense minister' Amir Comrade Peretz (who thinks he can just switch to Finance on the morning of May 29) believes Israel should begin negotiations with Syria. I'm sure Bashar al-Assad won't forget Amir Peretz's name either.

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