March 14, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Dan Snow travels to Syria, for the BBC’s This World series, to see how the country’s fascinating and tumultuous history is shaping the current civil war.
February 28, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Gunfire, torture until death, rape on a mass scale, artillery, aerial bombardment, targetting of hospitals, bakeries and petrol lines, and now scud missiles. A boy in Aleppo describes the effects of the latter.
February 15, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Fawaz Gerges and Rosemary Hollis in conversation with Pulse editor Robin Yassin-Kassab.
February 6, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Highlights from the trip organized by SAC, where a group of young activists visited parts of liberated Syria in December 2012 to deliver aid and form relationships with civilian activists on the ground.
February 3, 2013 § 2 Comments
This was published at The National.
On January19th Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem gave an apparently conciliatory interview to state TV. “I tell the young men who carried arms to change and reform, take part in the dialogue for a new Syria and you will be a partner in building it. Why carry arms?” In the southern and eastern suburbs of Damascus his voice was drowned out by the continuing roar of the regime’s rocket, artillery and air strikes.
The UN and parts of the media have also called for negotiations. Until late January this year, however, the Syrian National Coalition – the widely-recognised opposition umbrella group – opposed the notion absolutely. But then SNC leader Moaz al-Khatib announced that he would talk directly to regime representatives (not Bashaar al-Assad himself) on condition that the regime releases 160, 000 detainees and renews the expired passports of exiled Syrians.
In the context of Moallem’s media offensive (and in the absence of concerted international financial or military support for either the SNC or the revolutionary militias) al-Khatib’s announcement calls the regime’s bluff. It doesn’t, of course, mean that negotiations are about to be launched. For a start, the regime only intends to negotiate with, as it puts it, those “who have not betrayed Syria”. Like successive Israeli regimes, it will only talk with the ‘opposition’ it chooses to recognise. This includes, as well as pro-regime people posing as oppositionists, Haytham Manaa’s National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, a group which has no influence whatsoever on the revolutionary fighters setting the agenda. The SNC – which does have some influence on the ground, and would have far more if it were sufficiently funded – is definitely not invited.
January 30, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Last night I was at London’s Purcell Room, honoured to be in the presence of novelist and screenwriter Nihad Sirees and poet Golan Hajji. The event was chaired by the BBC’s Lyse Doucet. We were talking about writing in the context of the Syrian revolution. Then I participated in the morning edition of the BBC World Service’s World Have Your Say, discussing Syria, and I joined the WHYS in the evening too, discussing Syria and Mali (on which I’m no expert) at greater length.
Here is the morning edition.
And here is the longer evening programme.
January 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Reporter Janine di Giovanni has been to the worst places on Earth to bring back stories from Bosnia, Sierra Leone and most recently Syria. She tells stories of human moments within large conflicts — and explores that shocking transition when a familiar city street becomes a bombed-out battleground.
January 23, 2013 § Leave a Comment
This piece, a rebuttal to Marc Lynch, was published at Foreign Policy under the title Fund Syria’s Moderates.
In response to non-violent protests calling for reform, the Baathist regime in Damascus has brought Syria bloodshed, chaos, and created the conditions in which jihadism thrives. The now partially armed revolution is doing its best to roll back the bloodshed and to eliminate the regime that perpetrates it.
Yet Foreign Policy’s Marc Lynch, one of the more perceptive analysts of the Middle East, argues that after more than 60,000 lives have been lost, “the last year should be a lesson to those who called for arming the rebels.” In a previous article, Lynch noted, “Syrian armed groups are now awash with weapons.”
Anyone laboring under the delusion that pro-revolution foreign powers have flooded Syria with hi-tech weaponry should scroll through the blog of New York Times correspondent C.J. Chivers or peruse the web pages displaying improvised catapult bombs and PlayStation-controlled armored cars. These are hardly the tools of a fighting force that has been armed to the teeth.
While it’s true that some armed groups — particularly the al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra — have sometimes found themselves in possession of plenty of weaponry, the resistance remains overwhelmingly dependent on the weapons it can buy, steal, or seize from captured checkpoints and bases.
Simply put, the assumptions of those who called for arming the rebels have not been tested because the rebels have not been armed — except in irrelevant, sporadic and, in Lynch’s words, “poorly coordinated” ways. For instance, an ammunition shortage slowed the original rebel advance in Aleppo to a destructive halt.
January 17, 2013 § 6 Comments
This was written for the excellent Lobelog.
In August 2012 Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi attended a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Tehran. His presence at the conference was something of a diplomatic victory for the Iranian leadership, whose relations with Egypt, the pivotal Arab state, had been at the lowest of ebbs since the 1979 revolution.
Egypt’s President Sadat laid on a state funeral for the exiled Iranian shah. A Tehran street was later named after Khalid Islambouli, one of Sadat’s assassins. Like every Arab country except Syria, Egypt backed Iraq against Iran in the First Gulf War. Later, Hosni Mubarak opposed Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, worked with the US and Saudi Arabia against Iran’s nuclear program, and was one of the Arab dictators (alongside the Abdullahs of Jordan and Saudi Arabia) to warn darkly of a rising “Shi’ite cresent”. Not surprisingly, Iran was so overjoyed by the 2011 revolution in Egypt that it portrayed it as a replay of its own Islamic Revolution.
Iran also rhetorically supported the revolutions in Tunisia and Libya, the uprising in Yemen, and, most fervently, the uprising in Shia-majority Bahrain.
In Syria, however, Iran supported the Assad tyranny against a popular revolution even as Assad escalated repression from gunfire and torture to aerial bombardment and missile strikes. Iran provided Assad with a propaganda smokescreen, injections of money to keep regime militias afloat, arms and ammunition, military training, and tactical advice, particularly on neutralising cyber opponents. Many Syrians believe Iranian officers are also fighting on the ground.
January 7, 2013 § Leave a Comment
“It was operatic in its otherworldly fantasy, unrelated to realities outside the building,” wrote Rami Khouri of Bashaar al-Assad’s latest speech, delivered as the bombs fell on southern Damascus. I was a guest on the BBC World Service to discuss the speech alongside Patrick Seale (Hafez al-Assad’s biographer), Syria Comment’s Joshua Landis, Faisal Yafai of the National, and Dr Yazan Abdullah. You can listen to the conversation here. (I fear it may not be accessible beyond the UK).