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Monday, January 31, 2011

Assad promises 'reforms,' and blames Israel

Is the heir of the Butcher of Damascus panicking over what's going on in Egypt? In a Wall Street Journal interview, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad promises 'reform' in his dictatorship. And he blames Israel for all that is going wrong. Here's some of it.
From the outside, what is the role of the West? It's now been twenty years since we started the peace process in 1991. What have we achieved? The simple way to answer this question is to say is it better or worse? We can for example say that it is five percent better than before we started the peace process. I can tell you frankly that it is much worse. That is why you have more desperation. This is the end result. If you talk about the approach, I always talk about taking the issue into a vicious cycle of desperation especially when you talk about peace. I am talking now about peace. You have other factors: you have negotiations, and then exaggerated hopes followed by failure; and then comes another hope and another failure. So, with time the diagram will be going down, and that is what has been happening: a little bit up and more down. This is one example about peace. [So thirty years plus after Egypt got back every last inch of land they lost in a war of aggression that they started, their people are 'desperate' and rebelling against the Mubarak government because of the 'peace process'? That really makes no sense. CiJ].

Internally, it is about the administration and the people's feeling and dignity, about the people participating in the decisions of their country. It is about another important issue. 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. When there is divergence between your policy and the people's beliefs and interests, you will have this vacuum that creates disturbance. So people do not only live on interests; they also live on beliefs, especially in very ideological areas. Unless you understand the ideological aspect of the region, you cannot understand what is happening.[Syria has it tougher because they have yet to be the beneficiary of a foolish Israeli gift, and they are unlikely to be anytime soon. CiJ]


[I skipped the part where Assad said that reform in Syria would have to wait for the next generation. I'm sure Syrian democrats will just jump for joy upon hearing that. CiJ] WSJ: From what we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt in the recent weeks, does it make you think there are some reforms you should be accelerating? And is there any concern that what is happening in Egypt could infect Syria?

President Assad: If you did not see the need for reform before what happened in Egypt and in Tunisia, it is too late to do any reform. This is first. Second, if you do it just because of what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, then it is going to be a reaction, not an action; and as long as what you are doing is a reaction you are going to fail. So, it is better to have it as a conviction because you are convinced of it, and this is something we talk about in every interview and every meeting. We always say that we need reform but what kind of reform. This is first. Second, if you want to make a comparison between what is happening in Egypt and Syria, you have to look from a different point: why is Syria stable, although we have more difficult conditions? Egypt has been supported financially by the United States, while we are under embargo by most countries of the world. We have growth although we do not have many of the basic needs for the people. Despite all that, the people do not go into an uprising. So it is not only about the needs and not only about the reform. It is about the ideology, the beliefs and the cause that you have. There is a difference between having a cause and having a vacuum. So, as I said, we have many things in common but at the same time we have some different things.

WSJ: So somehow they should be able to move faster, wouldn't they?

President Assad: Exactly and what is happening is the opposite. They tell you move faster and at the same time they impose an embargo! Part of moving faster is technical. Part of the problem is how to upgrade your administration because at the end everything in society will be related to the administration such as the laws, the judicial system and other technical issues. Unless you do this for a better economy and better performance, people will not be satisfied, and the most important point in any reform is the institutions. You cannot have democracy without the institutions. You cannot have a democracy that is built on the moods of self-interested people. So, the beginning is dialogue and the institutions. [But most Syrians don't feel as Assad does. They may not love Israel, but they definitely want democratic reform. But Assad is willing to gas his people just like his father did, so he doesn't care what they think. Say what you will about Mubarak, at least he hasn't called out the chemical weapons. CiJ]
The interview is quite long, and honestly I did not read all of it. You can find the rest here.

The picture at the top comes from one of the ant-Assad websites calling for demonstrations on Saturday.

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At 6:56 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Mubarak is not willing to shed blood to retain power - as an old man, he is thinking about his legacy. The young Assad, fit and healthy, is under no such restraint. The Syrian dictatorship has lasted for ages. I can't see what would bring it down today, as long as the Alawite tribal elite remains united in retaining power there.


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