Tag Archives: Syria

Syria’s President Assad: “Erdogan used the Coup to Implement his Muslim Brotherhood Agenda”

source: 21st Century Wire

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President Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to Cuba’s official state news agency Prensa Latina in which he said the Turks, Qataris and Saudis lost most of their cards on the battlefields in Syria and that the Aleppo battle is their last card, affirming that there is strong harmony between Syria and Latin America, especially Cuba, on the political and historical levels and that hard work is needed in order to invigorate the different sectors of this relation.

The following is the full text of the interview:

Question 1: Mr. President, thanks for giving Prensa Latina this historic opportunity of conveying your point of view to the rest of the world about the reality in Syria, because as you know, there is a lot of misinformation out there about your country, about the foreign aggression that is taking place against this beautiful country.

Mr. President, how would you evaluate the current military situation of the external aggression against Syria, and what are the main challenges of Syrian forces on the ground to fight anti-government groups? If it is possible, we would like to know your opinion about the battles or combats in Aleppo, in Homs.

President Assad: Of course, there was a lot of support to the terrorists from around the world. We have more than one hundred nationalities participating in the aggression against Syria with the support of certain countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar with their money and Turkey with the logistical support, and of course with the endorsement and supervision of the Western countries, mainly the United States, France, and the UK, and some other allies.

But since the Russians decided to intervene in supporting legally the Syrian Army in fighting the terrorists in Syria, mainly al-Nusra and ISIS and some other affiliated groups, the scales have been tipped against those terrorists, and the Syrian Army has made many advances in different areas in Syria. And we are still moving forward, and the Syrian Army is determined to destroy and to defeat those terrorists.

You mentioned Homs and Aleppo. Of course, the situation in Homs, since the terrorists left Homs more than a year ago, the situation has been much, much better, more stable. You have some suburbs of the city which were infiltrated by terrorists. Now there is a process of reconciliation in those areas in which either the terrorists give up their armaments and go back to their normal life with amnesty from the government, or they can leave Homs to any other place within Syria, like what happened more than a year ago in the center of the city.

For Aleppo it is a different situation, because the Turks and their allies like the Saudis and Qataris lost most of their cards on the battlefields in Syria, so the last card for them, especially for Erdogan, is Aleppo. That is why he worked hard with the Saudis to send as much as they can of the terrorists – the estimation is more than 5,000 terrorists – to Aleppo.

Question 2: Through the Turkish borders?

President Assad: Yes, from Turkey to Aleppo, during the last two months, in order to recapture the city of Aleppo, and that didn’t work. Actually, our army has been making advancement in Aleppo and the suburbs of Aleppo in order to encircle the terrorists, then, let’s say, either to negotiate their going back to their normal life as part of reconciliation, or for the terrorists to leave the city of Aleppo, or to be defeated. There’s no other solution.

Continue reading Syria’s President Assad: “Erdogan used the Coup to Implement his Muslim Brotherhood Agenda”

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Please Support The SYRIAN VOICES BOOK PROJECT

Source: In Gaza

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*photo: Resilience of Syrians, Old City of Homs, December 2015.

As many readers will know, I have visited Syria four times, between April 2014 and December 2015—independently on a journalist’s visa and as part of two peace delegations. When in Syria as a writer, I visited key places—including liberated Homs and Ma’loula, terror-bombed regions of Homs, and the Yarmouk district, which has been focus of slick propaganda by anti-Syria corporate media and so-called human rights groups—and have conducted numerous interviews, with Syrian political and religious leaders, as well as Syrian civilians.

I have taken many photographs and videos, collected numerous personal testimonies, undertaken my own research and investigations, visited hospitals and refugee centres, and—in every area that I visited—have conversed with Syrians about what they feel is the cause of the problems in Syria, the solution, and on their insistence for Syria’s sovereignty, and on their support for the Syrian Arab Army and their president.

In the months since my last trip, I have been transcribing interviews and testimonies and writing articles based on them, writing about my personal impressions based on my visits to Syria, and challenging the latest corporate media lies and propaganda campaigns.

I will be returning to Syria, as soon as possible, and for that I must ask for financial assistance to make this trip possible. [see:  Syrian Voices Book Project on GoFundMe ]

Why am I compelled to go to Syria?

In order to write a book that prioritizes Syrian voices from Syria: truths from some of the most highly-misrepresented, lied about or plainly ignored areas of Syria.

To do justice to the full spectrum of the stories of Syrians as told by them, it is essential that I visit areas I not previously been to, areas that have been liberated since I was last there and areas that are enduring especially egregious suffering—such as in Aleppo under terrorist bombs.

To be able to meet costs associated with overseas flights, as well as travel and related expenses in Syria, it is necessary for me to fund-raise, because my current work as a writer and related advocacy work is either unpaid or paid very little.

If this book project, as well as my ability to write additional articles from Syria, is something you wish to and are able to support financially, I would gratefully appreciate any and all contributions.

If you would like to support my work, but are not in a position to do so financially, I would be grateful if you could share this fundraising appeal with others, as this will give a tremendous boost to my appeal.

Full details of my work and plans can be accessed on my gofundme page.

*NOTE: For those wish to donate but prefer to use Paypal, follow this link

For those who prefer to avoid Payal transaction fees, e-transfers are an option. Canadian banks only however.

Supporters’ Comments on Facebook and GoFundMe:

“Your work in raising awareness for the Syrian people and combating the lying war propaganda cannot be valued in currency. Thank you for committing to writing this.”
– Angelis Dania
“you are an example for what a real journalist should be
you do it all yourself, take all the hardships and offer truth to those who are thirsty for it
you are of a different nationality, different language, different culture, yet you turn up to be loyal to Syria more than many of its children..
Great work Eva”

-Jamila and Shababeek شبابيك are with you

“Eva, thanks for doing this work. It gives voice to Syrians and is critical for countering the vicious propaganda of the “left” (fake left) imperialists who are effectively supporting foreign-backed Wahabbit-Takfiri terrorists waging a dirty war on Syria.”
-Daniel Wirt

 

“Please support this in any way you can. Eva Bartlett is a truly brilliant journalist and activist for justice & truth, and we all know who rare that sort of stuff is.”
-Hayat Islam

“The best money you will ever spend! Give some. Trust me. Canada’s Rachel Corrie needs your help. Fund the amazing journalism of Eva Bartlett. Help truth and justice rise to the top.”
-Denis Rancourt

“In a just world, a brilliant and courageous person like Eva Bartlett would have all of the funding and support necessary to carry on her work. But it is not a just world. It is only through the efforts of people like Eva to bring truth to this world of lies that it may become more so. Please read her full description of the proposed project and give if you can or share the fundraising appeal so that others may become aware of it.”
– David Lorig

“Supporting Eva Bartlett will support the people of ‪#‎Syria in their struggle for ‪#‎Peace & ‪#‎sovereignty!”
-Nino Pagliccia

“I couldn’t think of someone more worthy than Eva Bartlett to receive support. Her work on Syria has been absolutely astounding from day 1.”
-Valentina Capurri

“Dear friends … please read and whatever contribution you can make for this brave journalist is highly appreciated … Thanks”
-Waseem Abbas

“Please support the wonderful independent journalist Eva Bartlett, someone who’s doing an priceless work on Syria. A true fighter for justice and truth for THE SYRIAN PEOPLE”
-Julia Kaya

Continue reading Please Support The SYRIAN VOICES BOOK PROJECT

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Conversation: A Russian Warning

Source: Club Orlov

We, the undersigned, are Russians living and working in the USA. We have been watching with increasing anxiety as the current US and NATO policies have set us on an extremely dangerous collision course with the Russian Federation, as well as with China. Many respected, patriotic Americans, such as Paul Craig Roberts, Stephen Cohen, Philip Giraldi, Ray McGovern and many others have been issuing warnings of a looming a Third World War. But their voices have been all but lost among the din of a mass media that is full of deceptive and inaccurate stories that characterize the Russian economy as being in shambles and the Russian military as weak—all based on no evidence. But we—knowing both Russian history and the current state of Russian society and the Russian military, cannot swallow these lies. We now feel that it is our duty, as Russians living in the US, to warn the American people that they are being lied to, and to tell them the truth. And the truth is simply this:

If there is going to be a war with Russia, then the United States
will most certainly be destroyed, and most of us will end up dead.

Let us take a step back and put what is happening in a historical context. Russia has suffered a great deal at the hands of foreign invaders, losing 22 million people in World War II. Most of the dead were civilians, because the country was invaded, and the Russians have vowed to never let such a disaster happen again. Each time Russia had been invaded, she emerged victorious. In 1812 Nepoleon invaded Russia; in 1814 Russian cavalry rode into Paris. On July 22, 1941, Hitler’s Luftwaffe bombed Kiev; On May 8, 1945, Soviet troops rolled into Berlin.

But times have changed since then. If Hitler were to attack Russia today, he would be dead 20 to 30 minutes later, his bunker reduced to glowing rubble by a strike from a Kalibr supersonic cruise missile launched from a small Russian navy ship somewhere in the Baltic Sea. The operational abilities of the new Russian military have been most persuasively demonstrated during the recent action against ISIS, Al Nusra and other foreign-funded terrorist groups operating in Syria. A long time ago Russia had to respond to provocations by fighting land battles on her own territory, then launching a counter-invasion; but this is no longer necessary. Russia’s new weapons make retaliation instant, undetectable, unstoppable and perfectly lethal.

Thus, if tomorrow a war were to break out between the US and Russia, it is guaranteed that the US would be obliterated. At a minimum, there would no longer be an electric grid, no internet, no oil and gas pipelines, no interstate highway system, no air transportation or GPS-based navigation. Financial centers would lie in ruins. Government at every level would cease to function. US armed forces, stationed all around the globe, would no longer be resupplied. At a maximum, the entire landmass of the US would be covered by a layer of radioactive ash. We tell you this not to be alarmist, but because, based on everything we know, we are ourselves alarmed. If attacked, Russia will not back down; she will retaliate, and she will utterly annihilate the United States.

The US leadership has done everything it could to push the situation to the brink of disaster. First, its anti-Russian policies have convinced the Russian leadership that making concessions or negotiating with the West is futile. It has become apparent that the West will always support any individual, movement or government that is anti-Russian, be it tax-cheating Russian oligarchs, convicted Ukrainian war criminals, Saudi-supported Wahhabi terrorists in Chechnya or cathedral-desecrating punks in Moscow. Now that NATO, in violation of its previous promises, has expanded right up to the Russian border, with US forces deployed in the Baltic states, within artillery range of St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, the Russians have nowhere left to retreat. They will not attack; nor will they back down or surrender. The Russian leadership enjoys over 80% of popular support; the remaining 20% seems to feel that it is being too soft in opposing Western encroachment. But Russia will retaliate, and a provocation or a simple mistake could trigger a sequence of events that will end with millions of Americans dead and the US in ruins.

Continue reading Conversation: A Russian Warning

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Funding Terrorism: Who doesn’t these days?

Did anyone see the news?

Seymour Hersh published “Hillary Approved Sending Libya’s Sarin to Syrian Rebels”

Did anyone else look at that article and say – “Yeah, big deal.”

Don’t get me wrong, this is important news to break out into the general population, but most of us who track this stuff aren’t surprised. We are hardened to such low level surprises.

Hilary Clinton / Gaddafi Murder
Hilary Clinton / Gaddafi Murder

We are continually surprised to see how few of these war crimes actually get published.

We are continually surprised to see that the biggest war crimes never get any serious air time in the mainstream. For example, the use of DU, the many lies deliberately fabricated to make the case for war, the millions of innocent dead and counting every day, the trillions of dollars “lost” by the US Pentagram, the trillions of dollars stolen in oil and military contracts by those connected to the ones who made the original fabricated reasons to go to war, and many thousands of specific war crime events that have gone unreported or under-reported.

We are surprised to see that these war criminals get bolder and more criminal and more numerous in the halls of power while at the same time, society has become more accustomed, more acclimated, more tolerant of these increasingly numerous and obvious war crime events.

There has been much talk about having a red line against supposed crimes of supposed dictators that have never even been accused of doing half a percent of what is admittedly being done by the US military. So where is our “red line”? Society and humanity seems to be in a coma. We are surprised by those things. Where is the universal application of right and wrong? The greatest numbers of civilians getting killed are being killed by the greatest beneficiaries of these wars. Why do we fail to stop powerful people for the worst crimes on the planet? This is something humans are going to have to figure out and correct or face possible extinction at the hands of these psychopaths who apparently can do no wrong.

Continue reading Funding Terrorism: Who doesn’t these days?

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Conversation: Rogue Diplomacy

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Oceania Saker.

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Syria,ISIS & The US-UK Propaganda War, by Eric Draitser

source: New Eastern Outlook

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With the war in Syria raging in its fifth year, and the Islamic State wreaking havoc throughout the Middle East and North Africa, it’s clear that the entire region has been made into one large theater of conflict. But the battlefield must not be understood solely as a physical place located on a map; it is equally a social and cultural space where the forces of the US-UK-NATO Empire employ a variety of tactics to influence the course of events and create an outcome amenable to their agenda. And none to greater effect than propaganda.

Indeed, if the ongoing war in Syria, and the conflicts of the post-Arab Spring period generally, have taught us anything, it is the power of propaganda and public relations to shape narratives which in turn impact political events. Given the awesome power of information in the postmodern political landscape, it should come as no surprise that both the US and UK have become world leaders in government-sponsored propaganda masquerading as legitimate, grassroots political and social expression.

London, Washington, and the Power of Manipulation

The Guardian recently revealed how the UK Government’s Research, Information, and Communications Unit (RICU) is involved in surveillance, information dissemination, and promotion of individuals and groups as part of what it describes as an attempt at “attitudinal and behavioral change” among its Muslim youth population. This sort of counter-messaging is nothing new, and has been much discussed for years. However, the Guardian piece actually exposed the much deeper connections between RICU and various grassroots organizations, online campaigns, and social media penetration.

The article outlined the relationship between the UK Government’s RICU and a London-based communications company calledBreakthrough Media Network which “has produced dozens of websites, leaflets, videos, films, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and online radio content, with titles such as The Truth about Isis and Help for Syria.” Considering the nature of social media, and the manner in which information (or disinformation) is spread online, it should come as no surprise that a number of the viral videos, popular twitter feeds, and other materials that seemingly align with the anti-Assad line of London and Washington are, in fact, the direct products of a government-sponsored propaganda campaign.

In fact, as the authors of the story noted:

One Ricu initiative, which advertises itself as a campaign providing advice on how to raise funds for Syrian refugees, has had face-to-face conversations with thousands of students at university freshers’ fairs without any students realising they were engaging with a government programme. That campaign, called Help for Syria, has distributed leaflets to 760,000 homes without the recipients realising they were government communications.

It’s not hard to see what the British Government is trying to do with such efforts; they are an attempt to control the messaging of the war on Syria, and to redirect grassroots anti-war activism to channels deemed acceptable to the political establishment. Imagine for a moment the impact on an 18-year-old college freshman just stepping into the political arena, and immediately encountering seasoned veteran activists who influence his/her thinking on the nature of the war, who the good guys and bad guys are, and what should be done. Now multiply that by thousands and thousands of students. The impact of such efforts is profound.

But it is much more than simply interactions with prospective activists and the creation of propaganda materials; it is also about surveillance and social media penetration. According to the article, “One of Ricu’s primary tasks is to monitor online conversations among what it describes as vulnerable communities. After products are released, Ricu staff monitor ‘key forums’ for online conversations to ‘track shifting narratives,’ one of the documents [obtained by The Guardian] shows.” It is clear that such efforts are really about online penetration, especially via social media.

By monitoring and manipulating in this way, the British Government is able to influence, in a precise and highly targeted way, the narrative about the war on Syria, ISIS, and a host of issues relevant to both its domestic politics and the geopolitical and strategic interests of the British state. Herein lies the nexus between surveillance, propaganda, and politics.

But of course the UK is not alone in this effort, as the US has a similar program with its Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) which describes its mission as being:

…[to] coordinate, orient, and inform government-wide foreign communications activities targeted against terrorism and violent extremism… CSCC is comprised of three interactive components. The integrated analysis component leverages the Intelligence Community and other substantive experts to ensure CSCC communicators benefit from the best information and analysis available. The plans and operations component draws on this input to devise effective ways to counter the terrorist narrative. The Digital Outreach Team actively and openly engages in Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, and Somali.

Notice that the CSCC is, in effect, an intelligence hub acting to coordinate propaganda for CIA, DIA, DHS, and NSA, among others. This mission, of course, is shrouded in terminology like “integrated analysis” and “plans and operations” – terms used to designate the various components of the overall CSCC mission. Like RICU, the CSCC is focused on shaping narratives online under the pretext of counter-radicalization.

It should be noted too that CSCC becomes a propaganda clearinghouse of sorts not just for the US Government, but also for its key foreign allies (think Israel, Saudi Arabia, Britain), as well as perhaps favored NGOs like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, or Doctors Without Borders (MSF). As the New York Times noted:

[The CSCC will] harness all the existing attempts at countermessaging by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies. The center would also coordinate and amplify similar messaging by foreign allies and nongovernment agencies, as well as by prominent Muslim academics, community leaders and religious scholars who oppose the Islamic State.

But taking this information one step further, it calls into question yet again the veracity of much of the dominant narrative about Syria, Libya, ISIS, and related topics. With social media and “citizen journalism” having become so influential in how ordinary people think about these issues, one is yet again forced to consider the degree of manipulation of these phenomena.

Manufacturing Social Media Narratives

It is by now well documented the myriad ways in which Western governments have been investing heavily in tools for manipulating social media in order to shape narratives. In fact, the US CIA alone has invested millions in literally dozens of social media-related startups via its investment arm known as In-Q-Tel. The CIA is spending the tens of millions of dollars providing seed money to these companies in order to have the ability to do everything from data mining to real-time surveillance.

The truth is that we’ve known about the government’s desire to manipulate social media for years. Back in February 2011, just as the wars on Libya and Syria were beginning, an interesting story was published by PC World under the title Army of Fake Social Media Friends to Promote Propaganda which explained in very mundane language that:

…the U.S. government contracted HBGary Federal for the development of software which could create multiple fake social media profiles to manipulate and sway public opinion on controversial issues by promoting propaganda. It could also be used as surveillance to find public opinions with points of view the powers-that-be didn’t like. It could then potentially have their “fake” people run smear campaigns against those “real” people.

Close observers of the US-NATO war on Libya will recall just how many twitter accounts miraculously surfaced, with tens of thousands of followers each, to “report” on the “atrocities” carried out by Muammar Gaddafi’s armed forces, and call for a No Fly Zone and regime change. Certainly one is left to wonder now, as many of us did at the time, whether those accounts weren’t simply fakes created by either a Pentagon computer program, or by paid trolls.

A recent example of the sort of social media disinformation that has been (and will continue to be) employed in the war on Syria/ISIS came in December 2014 when a prominent “ISIS twitter propagandist” known as Shami Witness (@ShamiWitness) was exposed as a man named “Mehdi,” (later confirmed as Mehdi Biswas) described as “an advertising executive” based in Bangalore, India. @ShamiWitness had been cited as an authoritative source – a veritable “wealth of information” – about ISIS and Syria by corporate media outfits, as well as ostensibly “reliable and independent” bloggers such as the ubiquitous Eliot Higgins (aka Brown Moses) who cited Shami repeatedly. This former “expert” on ISIS has now been charged in India with crimes including “supporting a terrorist organisation, waging war against the State, unlawful activities, conspiracy, sedition and promoting enmity.”

In another example of online media manipulation, in early 2011, as the war on Syria was just beginning, a blogger then known only as the “Gay Girl in Damascus” rose to prominence as a key source of information and analysis about the situation in Syria.The Guardian, among other media outlets, lauded her as “an unlikely hero of revolt” who “is capturing the imagination of the Syrian opposition with a blog that has shot to prominence as the protest movement struggles in the face of a brutal government crackdown.” However, by June of 2011, the “brutally honest Gay Girl” was exposed as a hoax, a complete fabrication concocted by one Tom MacMaster. Naturally, the same outlets that had been touting the “Gay Girl” as a legitimate source of information on Syria immediately backtracked and disavowed the blog. However, the one-sided narrative of brutal and criminal repression of peace-loving activists in Syria stuck. While the source was discredited, the narrative remained entrenched.

And this last point is perhaps the key: online manipulation is designed to control narratives. While the war may be fought on the battlefield, it is equally fought for the hearts and minds of activists, news consumers, and ordinary citizens in the West. The UK and US both have extensive information war capabilities, and they’re not afraid to use them. And so, we should not be afraid to expose them.

Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City, he is the founder of StopImperialism.org and OP-ed columnist for RT, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Oceania Saker.

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Conversation: Russia Delivers Life Into American “Democracy”

It would be a moot point to explain why the United States of America is the biggest threat to humanity. It is a well documented fact now.

While America funded,armed,directed & supported Daesh/ISIS, Russia defeated it and then in true class gave the world a sight to truly behold.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Oceania Saker.

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Seymour Hersh Says Hillary Approved Sending Libya’s Sarin to Syrian Rebels, by Eric Zuesse

ource: Strategic Culture

WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 19:  Author Seymour Hersh talks to a reader after a book discussion September 19, 2004 in Washington, DC. Hersh talked about his new book "Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib."  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON – SEPTEMBER 19: Author Seymour Hersh talks to a reader after a book discussion September 19, 2004 in Washington, DC. Hersh talked about his new book “Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The great investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, in two previous articles in the London Review of Books («Whose Sarin?» and «The Red Line and the Rat Line») has reported that the Obama Administration falsely blamed the government of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad for the sarin gas attack that Obama was trying to use as an excuse to invade Syria; and Hersh pointed to a report from British intelligence saying that the sarin that was used didn’t come from Assad’s stockpiles. Hersh also said that a secret agreement in 2012 was reached between the Obama Administration and the leaders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, to set up a sarin gas attack and blame it on Assad so that the US could invade and overthrow Assad. «By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria». Hersh didn’t say whether these «arms» included the precursor chemicals for making sarin which were stockpiled in Libya, but there have been multiple independent reports that Libya’s Gaddafi possessed such stockpiles, and also that the US Consulate in Benghazi Libya was operating a «rat line» for Gaddafi’s captured weapons into Syria through Turkey. So, Hersh isn’t the only reporter who has been covering this. Indeed, the investigative journalist Christoph Lehmann headlined on 7 October 2013, «Top US and Saudi Officials responsible for Chemical Weapons in Syria» and reported, on the basis of very different sources than Hersh used, that «Evidence leads directly to the White House, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, CIA Director John Brennan, Saudi Intelligence Chief Prince Bandar, and Saudi Arabia´s Interior Ministry». And, as if that weren’t enough, even the definitive analysis of the evidence that was performed by two leading US analysts, the Lloyd-Postal report, concluded that, «The US Government’s Interpretation of the Technical Intelligence It Gathered Prior to and After the August 21 Attack CANNOT POSSIBLY BE CORRECT». Obama has clearly been lying.

Continue reading Seymour Hersh Says Hillary Approved Sending Libya’s Sarin to Syrian Rebels, by Eric Zuesse

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Popular representation and democracy in Syria, by Kristian Girling

source: Oriental Review

The Syrian parliamentary election of 13 April 2016 is demonstrative of the apparent and continuing plurality of Syrian society as manifested within the People’s Council – a parliamentary body which has often been regarded as merely a façade of legitimation for the ruling Baath Party government of President Bashar al-Assad. Plurality within the parliament is of significance insofar as it is indicative of the involvement of a range of religious communities in Syrian political life and runs directly contrary to the prevailing narrative of Syria as a dictatorship dominated by the Alawite religious community, of which the Assad family are members, and to the exclusion of the involvement of other religious communities in political activity.

Elections to the 250 member Syrian People’s Council take place every four years with the country divided into fifteen multiple seat constituencies. Since 2012 and amendments to the country’s constitution Syrian political life has been, in theory, open to participation to a wider array of political parties than the Baath and other permitted parties such as the Syrian Social Nationalist or Syrian Communist parties. Previously the Syrian Baath Party had looked likely to retain power in parliament indefinitely and indeed to dominate either directly by its own MPs or indirectly via allied parties and MPs. However, with the changes there is limitation on presidential office to seven years for any one candidate, no president can rule for more than two seven year terms, the president can now be someone who is not a member of the ruling National Progressive Front coalition, and the constitution no longer has a stipulation that the Baath Party is to be the normative and leading influence in Syrian socio-political life. Such changes may seem relatively minor and indeed the Baath Party will likely remain the de facto power in Syria for some time to come but they are indicative of President Assad’s openness to pursuing gradual reform on a model which is perceived as suitable for Syrian circumstances.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad (C) casts his vote next to his wife Asma (centre left) inside a polling station during parliamentary elections in Damascus, Syria, on April 13, 2016.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad (C) casts his vote next to his wife Asma (centre left) inside a polling station during parliamentary elections in Damascus, Syria, on April 13, 2016.

A key aspect of encouraging and maintaining societal stability in Syria since independence from French rule in 1946 has been to ensure that authoritative political leadership is combined with some type of broad representation of the plural religious and ethnic communities resident to Syria and ensure that they have a stake in determining Syria’s development. An important issue has been to ensure that those outside of the Alawite community have opportunities to take on representative roles and to know their contributions to Syrian society are valued. Criticism has focused on the Alawite strength and/or prevalence to many spheres of Syrian life but especially economically and in the security services to the detriment of others. The People’s Council appears to an extent to undermine these critiques as exemplified by the majority of seats being held by Syrians of the majority Sunni Muslim community.

Alawites and plural representation in the People’s Council

 

The Alawite community broadly identifies itself as part of Shia Islam having emerged in the late ninth/early tenth centuries in western Syria possibly around the figure of the eleventh Shia Imam, Hasan al-Askari. To the external observer it might seem that the Alawites are more a syncretistic movement containing aspects of Christianity and Twelver Shia Islam given, amongst other activities, they celebrate a type of Divine Liturgy including the consecration of wine alongside strong reverence for Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law and cousin of the Islamic prophet, Mohammed. This combination of — or plurality of — beliefs in part explains why the Assad family has consistently supported the notion of a plural Syria and the general advancement of a paradigm of laïcité for the Syrian state and in which, in theory, no-one religion should predominate to the detriment of another.

The Alawites currently form around ten–fifteen percent of the Syrian population (c.2,000,000 people) and are concentrated in the western coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus. During the French Mandate in Syria (1923–1946) the Alawites were often strong supporters of French administration as their rule was perceived as a means to secure the Alawite community in a society which was not necessarily comfortable with their presence. Although Alawites consider themselves to be part of the Islamic milieu some Muslims, especially within the Sunni community, do not and find such assertions religiously and politically challenging.

The Alawite influence in the Syrian ruling élite within post-independence Syrian political affairs arose in the early 1970s when Hafez al-Assad (Bashar’s father) came to power as President. In general terms Hafez organised the state such that Sunnis held élite political offices and the Alawites held responsibility for the security services. The perception of the Syrian Baath establishment as a bastion of Alawite and to a lesser extent Christian power has not consistently sat well with the Syrian Sunni majority and it has been suggested that, in reality, they have been denied the opportunity to take a full part in Syrian political life. However, as I have noted, the People’s Council is predominantly Sunni and representative on a proportional level to the extent of almost matching the religious demographics of Syria:

These figures for Syrian MPs by religion were the only available as of 27 April 2016. Please contact ORIENTAL REVIEW if you are aware of another breakdown of these demographics.
These figures for Syrian MPs by religion were the only available as of 27 April 2016. Please contact ORIENTAL REVIEW if you are aware of another breakdown of these demographics.

Continue reading Popular representation and democracy in Syria, by Kristian Girling

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