How Do You Solve A Problem Like Syria?

(This week’s post is a day late, for which I apologise.  It will unfortunately also be shorter than usual as the work builds to a screaming fury.  Normal service resumes next week.) I’ve been taking a class in Conflict Resolution (as an academic discipline rather than from a practical perspective as a mediator), and rather foolishly chose Syria as the subject for my various papers.  I say this was foolish because our final paper assignment is essentially to solve the conflict, and if I managed to achieve that within a 10-page paper I would send it to the United Nations … Continue reading How Do You Solve A Problem Like Syria?

Hafez al-Asad and the Propaganda of Guilt

This week we’re back to my favourite subject: dictatorship, and more specifically, how does it work? I’ve started reading Lisa Wedeen’s excellent book The Ambiguities of Domination, which is based on fieldwork she did during the 80s and 90s in Syria concerning the cult of Hafez al-Asad.  I am about halfway through and I am thoroughly enjoying it.  It is well-written, intelligent, and casually readable as well as academic.  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in dictatorship or Syria. Wedeen’s extensive interviews and conversations with Syrians form the basis for her argument, which is that although it would seem … Continue reading Hafez al-Asad and the Propaganda of Guilt

Syria’s Chemical Weapons Programme Doesn’t Matter

…and we’re back, only two months later than I expected.  I hate winter. (This is really more a collection of thoughts in some vague order than a coherent argument.  If a coherent argument is made, it is accidental.) I’ve seen quite a lot of low-level panic recently about the Syrian chemical weapons programme.  Since the foreign ministry announced in July that the would only use chemical weapons against foreign forces, the topic has come up regularly.  The US even sent teams to Jordan to prepare to seize whatever distasteful materials they could find whenever the government collapses.  Now that five … Continue reading Syria’s Chemical Weapons Programme Doesn’t Matter

Oh God, Not Syria Again

On Thursday I went to a conference at the LSE called Inside Syria: 18 Months On.  There were four panels on different subjects (the regime, the opposition, Syrian identity, and the economic situation) and a closing speaker (none other than Burhan Ghalioun).  Something that particularly struck me was that practically every opposition activist who spoke – as opposed to the academics – mentioned the prospect of international intervention in a positive light.  They also stressed that although the uprising’s development into a civil war was not desirable, now that it has happened we have to deal with it on those … Continue reading Oh God, Not Syria Again

The New Struggle For Power

I’ve almost finished Nikolaos van Dam’s stunning book The Struggle for Power in Syria, which was first published in 1979 as a doctoral dissertation but proved so popular and informative that it has since been updated and re-published a further three times, most recently in 2010.  The first six chapters explore the political and sectarian machinations behind the coming to power of the Ba’th party and of Hafiz al-Assad, along with an exhaustive analysis of the fluctuating representation of each of Syria’s national minorities in government from 1948 to 1976.  The last four chapters discuss the ramifications of the information … Continue reading The New Struggle For Power

A Personal Absolution from Dictatorship

(Nota bene – some or all of this might have been written with the assistance of pain-killers) I am done with talking about Syria.  With the release of the Assad e-mails, the world is finally went mad.  After a year of the Syrian uprising gradually deviating from the narratives obligingly set out from it, from the unswift nature of the conflict to the protestors’ stubborn decision not to be CIA agents, the release of the e-mails is an attempt by the forces of liberal Orientalism (here represented by the Guardian) to cow Assad’s image towards proper tyranny and make him … Continue reading A Personal Absolution from Dictatorship

Not Quite A Revolution

The major Middle Eastern news this week has clearly been the Arab League’s almost-suspension of Syria for the crackdown on protestors, along with every Western media outlet in the land trumpeting that Jordan’s monarch (one of the earlier targets of the Arab Spring and still on my personal list of tyrants) had called for Bashar to step down.  This, so we are told, was the final international humiliation for a regime now isolated by so many former friends. In reality, this is nearly all bollocks.  King Abdullah did not quite call for Bashar to step down: he said that if … Continue reading Not Quite A Revolution