Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The US Funds Syrian Opposition

Date: Washington DC, February 20, 2006
Source: RPS Blog
Author: Farid Ghadry

Analysis of the Syrian OppositionWhat drives the Syrian Opposition to issue confusing statements? Why do some sound like the Assad regime talking? Who is honest and who is crooked?

As it goes, the United States just announced publicly a grant for $5 million to fund the Syrian opposition. And as all grants go, this one will be targeted to enhance the work of civil libertarians and to boost ideas of democracy within the framework of a united Syria.
In the last few months, there has been increased attention to democracy efforts in Syria, which resulted in country visits by scholars and analysts alike. These visits helped the US administration understand the voices that usually do not get heard in an oppressive society such as Syria. It is safe to say that the combined results of these visits are what prompted the US to fund the Syrian opposition. The most common denominator they heard over and over again is the lack of funding that is skewing and hampering the good work of some very brave people.
Armed with this knowledge, the US decided to act. We at RPS believe that the amounts are not sufficient and we are pressing the administration to commit more funds. The smaller the amount the less committed the US is. Compared to the $75 million the Iranian opposition got, we have a long way to go.
The attention to this matter by the Syrian regime was expected and even we predicted the usual suspects in the opposition such as Hassan Abdul Azeem and Michel Kilo to attack the effort, which in fact did take place almost immediately. In reality, Abdul Azeem, who is known for his close connections to the Syrian security services, announced that any Syrian member of the opposition, who is also member of the Damascus Declaration, will be removed from the DD club if they receive funds from the US. In other words, what Abdul Azeem was saying is that the Damascus Declaration was really a tool of the Syrian regime. The funding simply uncovered the truth.
Michel Kilo followed with another argument that essentially dilutes the need for the opposition to seek funding by claiming that the opposition’s demands are more political than financial. Some of the Syrian opposition even went as far as asking the US to fund the Syrian regime instead because it knows best who is an honest opposition and who is a traitor thus singing a familiar tune that many of us have grown tired of hearing and so has the Syrian public.
The manipulation of the Syrian dissident community inside Syria is worth analysis. It is a chess game of control, rebellion, submittal, and anger.
Most dissenters will tell you that they have no choice but to deal with the Syrian security and this is, up to a certain point, universally true. There is no such thing as a free opposition inside Syria; they all submit to the will of the internal security in one way or another. However, how they play that game and what latitude the dissidents have reflects upon the sophistication and the dimension of the game played by the Mukhabarat that the Soviet Union taught the Syrian regime how to play.
For instance, a well known fact in the Syrian opposition is that none of the dissidents have any freedom to maneuver independently; however, there are those who do get compromised intentionally by playing both sides, those who are willing participants, and those who constantly battle the regime for control and freedom.
The compromised ones play at such a level that it is not easy to discern truth from lies. Every statement has a meaning and every political stand is calculated based on the give-and-take of the moment. This is why people like Abdul Azeem and Kilo have a hard time explaining their positions in a unified voice. Their statements are so contradictory often that it leads one to confusion. The reality is that they are compromised to a higher degree than any of the other dissidents and that also explains the fact they are allowed to make public announcements because they are trusted to say the right thing at the right time to support weakening the Syrian opposition.
The willing participants fall into two categories: The Undercover and the Open. They usually play 100% with the Syrian regime in return for money or favors by allocating all of their resources to destroying the opposition. Such is the case of Nabil Fayyad and Nabil Milhem. Some like Nabil Fayyad who worked secretly with the Syrian security apparatus came out in the open for one good cause.
The ones who constantly battle the regime for control do usually end up in jail. Such are the cases of Riad Seif, Aref Dalilah, Ma’amun al-Homsi, and many more brave ones. Some of the jailed dissidents strike a deal with the regime to get out of jail but they usually stay in most cases a shorter period of time (Less than a month). Some re-enter because they break their promises.
What is interesting about these dissidents is the inner working of their communication system not only amongst themselves but also with the outside world. When the Ba’ath party announced that the Reform Party is a forbidden organization in its 10th conference on June 6, it gave the Syrian opposition a “joker” to play with to effectively control further the space they operate within. Very quickly, they discovered that attacking the Reform Party publicly gives them points that they can trade with either immediately on a matter that is important to them or to keep aside for harder times.
The same dissidents did not attack the also forbidden Muslim Brotherhood because the regime intentionally wanted the MB to get stronger in order for the international community to be concerned about regime change in Syria. As many analysts and observers of the Middle East have noted in their articles and research, the dictatorships of the Arab world are strengthening the MB in order to oppress the deployment of democracy in the Arab world by pointing to an unacceptable alternative. At the same time, they are working very hard to insure that no liberal Arab movements get stronger because they could be direct threats to their rule. However, the MB got smarter and has turned its attention to the calls of democracy in order to offset the attacks by Arab dictators.
When the regime attacked RPS on the issue of invading Syria, the chorus, instigated by the Assad regime, was repeated by the Syrian opposition. Some wanted to express their dislike for any military action even though RPS has never, ever advocated a military solution. Others felt that it suited them well to attack an organization whose connections can influence the process of ownership having not fully understood that the alternative to the Ba’ath party is a full democracy and not another political party or a person (now, they do understand it because the US State Department has met with many of them), and some attacked us because it provided them with cover as well as favors they can cash anytime. Either way, RPS became the target practice of the Syrian opposition because the Assad regime planned and executed the policy of abating our resolve. .
Furthermore, the Syrian regime attacked us on the issue of nationalist opposition vs. traitor opposition. The argument planned and put forth by a potent propaganda machine of the Ba’ath party goes like this: Since we have outside connections (i.e. the United States and Europe) we are considered a traitor opposition and since the ones inside the country do not have access or leverage, they were considered a nationalist opposition. Again, the chorus of the Syrian opposition inside the country took the bait in order to either survive or play the role assigned to them by the Ba’ath system. Either way, RPS was at the receiving end of attacks by what seemed to be not only the regime but also the opposition. The intent of the regime was to isolate RPS and discredit its work. All of the pro-Assad regime people, such as Murhaf Joueijati, whose father served the Ba’ath system under Hafez al-Assad as the Syrian Ambassador to the United States, were singing the same tune: RPS does not have any following inside the country.
Today, the Syrian opposition is filling space that last year was controlled by the regime, which inevitably increases the decibels of a determined dissident community and hopefully give them amore assurances that RPS is neither the strongest nor the ONLY opposition. The weaker the regime gets, the bolder the good opposition inside the country gets and the better the message to the outside world gets. What is important at this stage is to analyze what the opposition inside the country says in the context of their commitments, goals, anxieties, fragility, and purposes. We just have to remember that everything is not clear and what is clear hides layers of deceit.

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