Wednesday, March 30, 2011
The scene is familiar now. Demonstrators congregate at the main city square to express their disgust at the local tyrant’s control of their country. Their religion may be Muslim, or Facebook. They may want Sharia law or democracy. What they got was nightsticks.
Damascus. A “blackbird’s” eye view
It wasn’t big by demonstration standards. It wasn’t the Million Man march with their 300,000 in attendance. It was not comparable to Egypt or Tunisia or even Bahrain. But it got the boys out with their batons and they broke a few bones and made “President” Bashar al-Assad’s view known. No freedom for Syria.
Assad and Hezbollah’s Nasrallah
Rebellion and unrest is not new to Syria, but the Assads, the late father and current son know how to deal with it. Here is the Wikipedia story of Hama, and it’s destruction. We offer it because it shows that brute force is something that many Middle Eastern rulers know how to wield.
The city was home to the “peace-loving, secular” Muslim Brotherhood in that day. Today it doesn’t exist. The late Assad had it cemented over.
Wikipedia article follows:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Hama massacre (Arabic: مجزرة حماة) occurred in February 1982, when the Syrian army bombarded the town of Hama in order to quell a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood. An estimated 17,000 to 40,000 people were killed, including about 1,000 soldiers, and large parts of the old city were destroyed. The attack has been described as possibly being "the single deadliest act by any Arab government against its own people in the modern Middle East".
The Arab nationalist, Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party of Syria and the conservative Muslim Brotherhood had clashed in Syria since 1940. The two groups were opposed in important ways. The Ba'ath party was secular, nationalist and led by the minority Alawites, which conservative Sunni Muslims considered Apostates. [The reigning powers are Alawites-EDM]
The Muslim Brotherhood, like other Islamist groups, saw nationalism as un-Islamic and religion as inseparable from politics and government. Most Ba'ath party members were from humble, obscure backgrounds and favored radical economic policies, while Sunni Muslims had dominated the souqs and landed power of Syria, and tended to view government intervention in the economy as threatening. Not all Sunni notables believed in fundamentalism, and those who did not often saw the Brotherhood as a useful tool against the Ba'ath. The town of Hama in particular was a "stronghold of landed conservatism and of the Muslim Brothers," and "had long been a redoubtable opponent of the Ba'thist state."
The first full-scale clash between the two occurred shortly after the 1963 coup in which the Ba'ath party first gained power in Syria. In April 1964 riots broke out in Hama where Muslim insurgents put up "roadblocks, stockpiled food and weapons, ransacked wine shops." After an Ismaili Ba'ath militia man was killed, riots intensified and rebels attacked "every vestige" of the Ba'th party in Hama. Tanks were brought in to crush the rebellion and 70 members of the Muslim Brotherhood died, with many others wounded or captured, and still more disappearing underground.
In 1979 the Brotherhood undertook guerrilla activities in multiple cities within the country targeting military officers, government officials and infrastructure. The resulting government repression included abusive tactics, torture, mass arrests, and a number of massacres. The anti-regime violence included the killing of 83 mainly Alawite military cadets in Aleppo in June 1979, and three car bomb attacks in Damascus between August and November 1980 that killed hundreds. In July 1980, the ratification of Law No. 49 made membership in the Muslim Brotherhood a capital offense.
[EDM – at the risk of being redundant, you might note that this is the same Muslim Brotherhood that now wants to run for office in Egypt.]
Throughout the first years of the 1980s the Muslim Brotherhood and various other Islamist factions staged hit-and-run and bomb attacks against the government and its officials, including a nearly successful attempt to assassinate president Hafez al-Assad on June 26, 1980, during an official state reception for the president of Mali. When a machine-gun salvo missed him, al-Assad allegedly ran to kick a hand grenade aside, and his bodyguard (who survived and was later promoted to a much higher position) smothered the explosion of another one. Surviving with only light injuries, al-Assad's revenge was swift and merciless: only hours later a large number of imprisoned Islamists (most reports ranged from several hundred to approximately 1000) were murdered in their cells in Tadmor Prison (near Palmyra), by units loyal to the president's brother Rifaat al-Assad.
The events of the massacre began on 2 a.m. on 3 February 1982. An army unit searching the old city "stumbled on the hideout of the local guerilla commander, `Umar Jawwad," (aka Abu Bakr) and were ambushed. Other insurgent cells were alerted by radio and "roof-top snipers killed perhaps a score" of Syrian soldiers. Reinforcements were rushed to besiege Abu Bakr who then "gave the order for a general uprising" in Hama. Mosque loudspeakers used for the call to prayer called for jihad against the Ba'ath, and hundreds of Islamic insurgents rose to attack the homes of government officials and Baath Party leaders, overrun police posts and ransack armories. By daybreak of the morning of 3 February some 70 leading Ba'thists had been killed and the Islamist insurgents and other opposition activists proclaimed Hama a "liberated city", urging Syrians to rise up against the "infidel".
[EDM- Hama was also an area where many Alawites and Baathists had lived]
According to author Patrick Seale, "every party worker, every paratrooper sent to Hama knew that this time Islamic militancy had to be torn out of the city, whatever the cost ..." 
The military was mobilized, and president Hafez al-Assad sent [his brother,] Rifaat's special forces (the Defense companies), elite army units and Mukhabarat agents to the city. Before the attack, the Syrian government called for the city's surrender and warned that anyone remaining in the city would be considered a rebel. Besieged by 12,000 troops, the fighting in Hama lasted for three weeks - the first week "in regaining control of the town," and the last two "in hunting down the insurgents." Robert Fisk in his book Pity the Nation described how civilians were fleeing Hama while tanks and troops were moving towards the city's outskirts to start the siege. He cites reports of high numbers of deaths and shortages of food and water from fleeing civilians and from soldiers.
According to Amnesty International, the Syrian military bombed the old city center from the air to facilitate the entry of infantry and tanks through the narrow streets; buildings were demolished by tanks during the first four days of fighting. Large parts of the old city were destroyed. There are also unsubstantiated reports of use of hydrogen cyanide by the government forces. After encountering fierce resistance, Rifaat's forces ringed the city with artillery and shelled it for three weeks.
Afterwards, military and internal security personnel were dispatched to comb through the rubble for surviving [Muslim] Brothers and their sympathizers. Torture and mass executions of suspected rebel sympathizers ensued, killing many thousands over several weeks.
Estimates of casualties vary from an estimated 7,000 to 35,000 people killed, including about 1,000 soldiers. Robert Fisk, who was in Hama shortly after the massacre, estimated fatalities at 10,000. The Independent estimates death toll as up to 20,000. According to Thomas Friedman, he heard through friends that Rifaat had later boasted of killing 38,000 people. Amnesty International initially estimated the death toll was between 10,000 and 25,000, the vast majority innocent civilians.
Reports by the Syrian Human Rights Committee estimate "over 25,000" or between 30,000 to 40,000 people were killed. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood also suggests a figure of approximately 40,000 victims.
Twenty years later, Syrian journalist Subhi Hadidi, wrote that "under the command of General 'Ali Haydar, besieged the city for 27 days, bombarding it with heavy artillery and tank [fire], before invading it and killing 30,000 or 40,000 of the city's citizens - in addition to the 15,000 missing who have not been found to this day, and the 100,000 expelled." 
After the Hama uprising, the Islamist insurrection was broken, and the Brotherhood has since operated in exile while other factions surrendered or slipped into hiding. Government attitudes in Syria hardened considerably during the uprising, and Assad would rely more on repressive than on political tactics for the remainder of his rule, although an economic liberalization began in the 1990s.
After the massacre, the already evident disarray in the insurgents' ranks increased, and the rebel factions experienced acrimonious internal splits. Particularly damaging to their cause was the deterrent effect of the massacre, as well as the realization that no Sunni uprisings had occurred in the rest of the country in support of the Hama rebels. Most members of the rebel groups fled the country or remained in exile, mainly in Jordan and Iraq, while others would make their way to the US, the United Kingdom and Germany. The Islamist groups either made peace with the regime or melted away, while the Muslim Brotherhood—the largest such group—split into two factions, after giving up on armed struggle. One, more moderate and recognized by the international Muslim Brotherhood, eventually headquartered itself in the UK where it remains, while another for several years retained a military structure in Iraq, with backing from the government, before rejoining the London-based mainstream.
The Hama massacre is often raised in indictment of the Assad regime's poor human rights record. Within Syria, mention of the massacre has been strictly suppressed, although the general contours of the events—and various partisan versions, on all sides—are well-known throughout the country. When the massacre is publicly referenced, it is only as the "events" or "incident" at Hama.
[EDM – it might be good to remind you that the vast majority of the sources here are quite liberal politically, but the basic facts are no doubt accurate.]
BACK TO TODAY
One news source reported last week:
Scores of plainclothes security officers charged the demonstrators assembled outside the Interior Ministry to demand the release of political prisoners, a Reuters witness said.
One demonstrator suffered a gash on his head, others were beaten and at least 15 were detained, including leading political activist Suhair al-Attasi.
Attasi had said Syrian authorities would not be able to escape the tumult shaking the Arab world by refusing to open the country's political system and allowing free expression.
"They pulled Suhair by her hair and took her away," one demonstrator said.
Among those arrested were Tayyib Tizini, 69, a professor of philosophy at Damascus University, and the sister and son of Kamal Labwani, a doctor jailed for "weakening national morale" and "inciting a foreign country to invade Syria."
The gathering in Marjeh square, an Ottoman-era square in the center of the capital, had been silent, with protesters raising pictures of imprisoned relatives and friends, before security forces started hitting them with their batons.
One of the demonstrators carried a picture of Mohannad al-Hassani, a lawyer who won an international human rights prize last May for representing political prisoners. He was sentenced a month later to three years in jail.
"This is chaos," a security officer shouted at protesters. "No this is a peaceful protest," a demonstrator answered.
The protesters dispersed after the attack, and security forces continued arresting more people, shoving them into a bus and a darkened van. An interior ministry official said "infiltrators" had tried to stir chaos in front of the ministry.
A brief counter-demonstration then started, with people chanting: "With our soul, with our blood, we shall sacrifice for Bashar," in reference to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Since mass uprisings overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Syrian authorities have intensified a long-running campaign of arrests of dissidents, independent writers and opposition figures.
There are an estimated 3,000-4,000 political prisoners in Syria, mostly held without trial. They include Kurds, Islamists and secular figures who have been demanding a democratic system to replace the Baath Party's five decade monopoly of power.
BACKGROUND ON SYRIA:
Syria (/ˈsɪriə/ ( listen) SI-ree-ə; Arabic: سورية sūriyya or سوريا sūryā; Syriac: ܣܘܪܝܐ), officially the Syrian Arab Republic (Arabic: الجمهورية العربية السورية), is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest.
The name Syria formerly comprised the entire region of the Levant, while the modern state encompasses the site of several ancient kingdoms and empires, including the Eblan civilization of the third millennium BC. In the Islamic era, its capital city, Damascus, was the seat of the Umayyad Empire and a provincial capital of the Mamluk Empire. Damascus is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
Modern Syria was created as a French mandate and attained independence in April 1946, as a parliamentary republic. The post-independence period was rocky, and a large number of military coups and coup attempts shook the country in the period 1949-1970. Syria has been under Emergency Law since 1962, effectively suspending most constitutional protections for citizens, and its system of government is considered non-democratic.
The country has been governed by the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party since 1963 and since 1971 the power has been concentrated first to Hafez al-Assad and then to his son Bashar al-Assad. The 1973 Constitution defines Syria officially as a secular socialist state with Islam recognised as majority religion. The ruling elite, military and the secret police are largely filled with loyal Alawites, a Syrian minority.
Syria has played a major regional role, particularly through its central role in the Arab conflict with Israel, which since the Six-Day War in 1967 has occupied the Golan Heights, and by active involvement in Lebanese and Palestinian politics. Syria maintains close relations with Iran.
The population is mainly Sunni Muslim, with a large Shia and Alawite population, and significant non-Muslim Christian and Druze minorities. Since the 1960s, Alawite military officers have tended to dominate the country's politics. Ethnically, some 90% of the population is Arab, and the state is ruled by the Baath Party according to Arab nationalist principles, while approximately 10% belong to the Kurdish, Armenian, Assyrians, Turkmen, and Circassians minorities.
It has been the opinion of both the late and current Assads that the major Syria should be re-established. That of course included everything from Eastern Turkey down to the Nile and has Jordan, Lebanon and Israel as a part of it.
The late Assad used to talk of dipping his toes into the Sea of Galilee as a boy, using the story as proof that the Golan was and should always be Syrian.
As Uzi Rubin said in one of his briefings we attended, “That would mean that he sneaked to the water’s edge because in his lifetime there was a thirty meter border around the water that was not Syrian territory.”
Whether the current dictator can hold on to power is still unknown. Ultimately the previous battles have been between Sunnis and Shia Muslims, with the Alawites considering themselves part of the Sunnis.
Either way – tyrant or turbulent new “democracy” Syria and the rest of the Middle East’s Arab nations are setting themselves up for manipulation by a new world leader who – we believe – is already on the scene and preparing for his debut.
AND Expect more on this new leader in our upcoming new novel, Killing Coyotes, soon to be available both from BarnabusPress and on Amazon Kindle.