7 years after the revolution: What is next for Syria?



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First session (out to the 1:47:41 time stamp, though the video does continue into the second session . . .):

Second session (beginning at the the 1:47:41 time stamp):

Posted on YouTube by Mohammad Al Attar

Source of the programme description that follows, HERE:


The 18th of March 2011, marked the first sparkle of the Syrian Revolution against one of the most brutal totalitarian regimes in the region. But very soon the country will enter dark phases of civil and proxy wars. The writer and political dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Syrian playwright Mohammad Al Attar, and Syrian writer and editor Yasmine Merei, are hosting group of Syrian and European experts and writers to discuss Syria’s complicated present and ambiguous future.

Session 1: 5-7 pm 
Moderated by Mohammad Al Attar
Speakers: Thomas Pierret (Belgium), Kristin Helberg (Germany), Yassin al-Haj Saleh (Syria)

With an open Q&A with audience.

Session 2: 7.30-9.30 pm 
Moderated by Yasmine Merei
Speakers: Bassma Kodmani (Syria), Nicolas Hénin (France), Mazen Darwish (Syria)

With an open Q&A with audience.

In cooperation with Allianz Kulturstiftung.


Image: Untitled. Zena El Abdallah

Thomas Pierret is a Senior Researcher at CNRS-IREMAM Aix-en-Provence. He holds a PhD in Political science from Sciences Po Paris and the University of Louvain. He was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh (2011-2017) and a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Princeton University and Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin. His research concerns issues of authority and ideology in Sunni Islam, as well as the organization and alliance strategies of rebel factions in the Syrian conflict. He is the author of Religion and State in Syria, The Sunni Ulama from Coup to Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2013), and the co-editor of Ethnographies of Islam (Edinburgh University Press, 2012). His recent publications include “Salafis at war in Syria. Logics of fragmentation and realignment” (in Salafism after the Arab Awakening, Hurst, 2017).

Kristin Helberg, born in 1973, is a journalist and political scientist. She studied in Hamburg and worked for the NDR before moving to Damascus in 2001. For seven years she reported from Syria for German, Austrian and Swiss media. Now she lives in Berlin as author and expert on Syrian and Middle Eastern Affairs. She wrote two books: Brennpunkt Syrien. Einblick in ein verschlossenes Land (Herder 2014) and Verzerrte Sichtweisen – Syrer bei uns. Von Ängsten, Missverständnissen und einem veränderten Land(Herder 2016). Her third book, Der Syrien-Krieg. Lösung eines Weltkonflikts will be published in July 2018.

Yassin al-Haj Saleh, born in Raqqa, Syria, in 1961, was a political prisoner between 1980 and 1996 for being a member in a communist party opposing the Assad regime. He is author of six books: Syria From Under Shades: Insights from Within the Black Box (2009), The Myths of the Successors: a Critique of Contemporary Islam and a Critique of the Critique (2011), Salvation, o Guys: 16 Years in the Syrian Prisons (2012), and Walking on One Leg (2012), Culture as Politics: Intellectuals and their Social Responsibility in the time of Monsters (2016), The Impossible Revolution(2017). He is a founding member of al Jumhuriya group that thinks and writes about Syrian affairs since March 2012: Also, he has been awarded with the Prince Claus Prize in 2012. Currently, he is a fellow at Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin – Institute for Advanced Studies.

Bassma Kodmani is the Executive Director of the Arab Reform Initiative, and Associate Professor of International Relations at Paris University. She served as senior adviser at the French National Research Council, Senior Research Fellow at CERI-Sciences Po, adviser to the Académie Diplomatique Internationale and Senior Visiting Fellow at the Collège de France. From 1981 to 1998, she established and directed the Middle East Program at the Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) in Paris. She holds a PhD in Political Science from Sciences Po in Paris. She has authored and edited books, reports and articles on conflicts, political and security reforms and religious authorities in the Middle East. Kodmani holds the distinction of Chevalière de la Légion d’Honneur of France.

Nicolas Hénin holds a master in History of international relations from Paris-1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University, and a master’s degree in journalism from the Practical Institute for Journalism, Paris. He spent most of his life as a freelance reporter, based first in Baghdad (2002-2004), then Amman (2004-2007). He then enlarged his perimeter to Africa and covered all of the MENA region, mostly for Le Point newsmagazine and Arte channel. He covered intensively the “Arab spring” revolutions and went numerous times to Syria. He’s been abducted by ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, and kept hostage for almost a year. He’s the author of several essays, including Jihad Academy.

Mazen Darwish is a Syrian human rights defender and journalist. He obtained his Law degree from Damascus University. He is currently the president of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), which he established in Damascus in 2004 with his activists’ colleagues. In 2011, Darwish established the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) with his friends, the activists Razan Zeitouneh, Wael Hamada and Nazem Hammadi, in order to pursue the violations of the Syrian regime against demonstrators and peaceful protesters. Since the beginning of his activism, Mazen Darwish has been subjected to numerous arrests and harassment by the Assad regime. His last arrest came in February 16, 2012, where he spent three and-a-half-years of detention. During his detention in 2015, Darwish won the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize and shared the PEN Pinter Prize for the year 2014 with the writer Salman Rushdie.


Mohammad Al Attar is a Syrian playwright and dramaturge. He graduated with a degree in English literature from Damascus University and holds a degree in Theatrical Studies from the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus. He also received a Masters in Applied Drama from Goldsmiths, London. His theatrical works like Withdrawal, Online, Look at the street…this is what hope looks like, Could You Please Look into the Camera?, Intimacy,Antigone of Shatila, and While I was waiting have been staged at various international festivals and venues. His piece Aleppo. A portrait of Absencewas staged at HKW, Berlin in September 2017, while his most recent play Iphigenie is still running at Volksbühne. Al Attar has written for numerous magazines and newspapers, with a special focus on the Syrian Uprising. Today, he is considered an important chronicler of war-torn Syria.

Yasmine Merei is a Syrian writer and journalist. She is the founder and director of the Women for Common Spaces Initiative in Berlin, specialized in refugee women issues and integration tools. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bawabat Souria, an online magazine which focuses on the Syrian current situation. From 2013 to 2015, she co-founded and moderated The Forum of Knowledge and Freedom of Expression in Gaziantep, Turkey. Through this forum, she discussed the political situation in Syria with a group of speakers from different political, journalistic and academic backgrounds in the first Syrian dialogue experience in exile. From 2013 to 2016, she worked as the managing editor of the women’s magazine Saiedet Souria.


Asad’s Decade of Lost Chances — Carsten Wieland | University of St Andrews Centre for Syrian Studies (2013)



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(17, 533 Words)

Source: [PDF] The Syrian Uprising: Dynamics of an Insurgency / Syria Studies

Carsten  Wieland studied  history,  political  science  and  philosophy  at Humboldt University in Berlin (PhD in 1999), Duke University in North Carolina, and at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Since 2011, he   works   in   the   German   Foreign   Office.   Before   he   entered   the diplomatic career he worked as a political consultant, analyst, author and journalist  and  spent  several  years  in  the  Middle  East.  Being  a  Syria expert for more than a decade, he published numerous articles and books on  the  Levant,  amongst  them Syria  at  Bay:  Secularism,  Islamism,  and “Pax Americana”, Hurst, London in 2006. Carsten previously worked at the Goethe Institute in Cairo and Munich and as a country representative for   the   Konrad   Adenauer   Foundation   in   Colombia.   He   was   a correspondent for the German Press Agency (DPA) in Washington, Tel Aviv, and Colombia, as well as DPA head of corporate communications and  public  affairs  in  Berlin.  He  is  guest  professor  for  international relations  at  the  Universidad  del  Rosario  in  Bogotá  and  was  a  fellow  at the  Public  Policy  Department at  Georgetown  University  in  Washington D.C. (

[This chapter of the Syria Studies issue [PDF] The Syrian Uprising: Dynamics of an Insurgency “is based on Carsten Wieland, Syria: A Decade of Lost Chances: Repression and Revolution from Damascus Spring to Arab Spring, Cune Press, Seattle, 2012.”]

Asad’s Decade of Lost Chances 

By Carsten  Wieland

The  autocrats  who  were  toppled  during  the  Arab  Spring  persevered  for some 30 or 40 years before their power structure imploded. After only a decade of rule, the Syrian regime under President Bashar al-Asad seems to  be  nearing  its  end.  The  country,  its  morale  and  social  fabric  are  in ruins.  Born  in  1965  he  is  the  youngest  among  the  Arab  autocrats  and already politically paralyzed -no matter with which scenario the bloody revolt in his country will end. How has this happened after Asad started his  rule  with  so  much  anticipation  and  high  hopes  in  June  2000?  The story  of  his  political  career  is  a  chain  of  missed  chances  and  practical failures.

We can assess how far Asad has fallen when we compare to where he  came  from  after  the  death  of  his  father,  Hafez.  For  this  purpose  I would  like  to  quote  a  passage  from  my  book  “Ballots  or  Bullets?”  in which I reflected the mood in the streets of Damascus some eight years ago:

Although his nimbus is fading, the young president possesses an image that,  from  the  point  of  view  of  most  Syrians,  is  neither  stained  with blood  nor  corrupted  by  radicalism  or  incompetence  (though  some would  say  more  the  latter  than  the  former).  He  has  successfully  been able  to  distance  himself  from  his  father’s  political  Stone  Age.  Most Syrians tend to look for faults in Bashar’s surroundings rather than in Bashar himself.2

After 2011 the president will never be able to revive his former image. He has chosen bullets instead of ballots.

Usually,   any   assessment   of   Bashar   al-Asad   starts   with   his personality, although this approach fails to explain developments in their complexity. “Bashar  is  not  the  regime”, traditional  oppositional  figures used to reiterate. This was different under Hafez al-Asad. The regime is a  complex  web  of  direct  or  subtle  influences,  priorities,  jealousies  and power   struggles.   There are indications   that   at   times Bashar   was incapable  of  enacting  decisions  of  his  own  or  even  fulfilling  given promises,  because  others were calling  the  shots.  A leading  and  well-informed oppositional figure said at the end of 2010 that Asad had been left to act freely in foreign policy only, whereas domestically the secret services, the Baath Party, his clan and big business representatives were controlling the sinecure.3

Without further evidence it is hard to prove if the observations also held  true a  few  months  later.  In  light  of  this  thesis  it  remains  an  open question  as  to  what  extent  the  cruelty  of  2011  and  2012  and  the numerous  technical  mistakes  committed  in  suppressing  the  popular protests  are  due  to  the  plurality  of  power  centres  in  the  Syrian  polity under Asad or if they can be directly attributed to him and his personal strategy.  Whether he is  personally  responsible  for  each  and  every  shot that  was  fired,  for  each  child  that  was  tortured  and  mutilated,  for  every armed  attack  of  the shabbiha Alawite  gangs to  incite  sectarian  hatred, for  cattle  and  fields  that  were  burnt  to  starve  dissenting  villagers,  does not  really  matter  in  the  end.  Since  2000 the  president has  reshuffled almost  all  important  positions  in  the mukhabarat,  the  military  and government bureaucracy. He is the president and thus responsible for the so-called security  solution.  The  protests  triggered  typical  reflexes  of  a thoroughly  authoritarian  culture  with  a  cruel  history  of  civil  wars  and crackdowns. Survival is a zero-sum game where the winner takes it all.

This outcome was far from inevitable as the following pages show. Asad  had  a  plethora  of  opportunities  that  he  missed  one  by  one, domestically  and  internationally.  Many  Syrians  pinned  their  hopes  for the young president as a reformer (as their fathers and grandfathers had already  projected  their  hopes  on  Hafez  al-Asad  as  a  “liberalizer”  and “pragmatist”  in  1970-1971).  From  the  beginning  of  his  rule  in  2000 Bashar  faced  a  very  moderate  and  intellectual  opposition  that  did  not pursue  the  priority  of  toppling  the  president  but  that  tried  to  press  for incremental  change  and  gradual  pluralism.  Bashar did not reach  out  to them   but   launched   three   major   waves   of   suppression   against   the oppositional Civil Society Movement between 2001 and 2008-2009. The noose   was   tightening   around   the   neck   of   the   opposition   despite increasing relaxation of international relations from 2008 onwards. Syria was  by  no  means  on  a  path  of  reform  when  the  Arab  Spring  hit  the country.  Nevertheless,  the  international  community  was  ready  to  listen to  Bashar’s  promises  and  to  appreciate  the  certain  stability  that  he embodied  until  he  was  rolled  over  by  mass  protests  from  March  2011 onwards.   Bashar   led   his   country   into   international   isolation   and traumatic destruction.  Stability and secularism, the Asads’ main assets, are   no   more.   Asad   destroyed   his   political   legacy,   his   family,   his religious  community,  Syria  as  it  used  to  be  and  probably  himself.  The decade  of  his  rule  is  a  tragic  story  because  it  could  have  ended so differently. Continue reading


What do Trump’s ‘withdrawal’ from Syria and the Gulf’s rapprochement with Assad have in common? — Michael Karadjis |Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis


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Source: Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis

(5,086 Words)

By Michael Karadjis / January 09, 2019

Sudanese tyrant Bashir becomes first Arab leader to visit Assad ...... as his own regime is confronted by its own Arab Spring uprising

“Sudanese tyrant Bashir becomes first Arab leader to visit Assad … as his own regime is confronted by its own Arab Spring uprising”

In the days since Donald Trump’s announcement that the US was to rapidly withdraw its 2000 troops from Syria, an enormous amount of speculation about what this means has taken place. In my initial piece, I expressed a number of views that are not widely shared.

First, I gave more credit to Trump having a valid position, from the point of view of US imperialism, than what was generally conceded. Overwhelmingly Trump’s move has been viewed as a pure personal whim, which is allegedly in conflict with what all other US ruling class circles prefer to happen.

Secondly, while almost every analyst claimed this move was a sell-out of the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to the Erdogan regime in Turkey, I stressed that it was just as much, if not more, a green light for the Bashar Assad tyranny to take control of the SDF-controlled regions.

With masses of contradictory information, it has been difficult to make coherent sense of the developments; none of us are seers. In this follow-up piece, I hope to shed more light on what I think is occurring.

Did Trump’s move contradict US ruling class interests?

On the first question, it is of course true that Trump acts on whim, and has a tendency to speak jibberish, which might well suggest that his orders came from a place of complete ignorance and be at variance with US ruling class interests. However, the idea that momentous decisions are made entirely by one guy with quasi-dictatorial powers is problematic. I will argue here that, Trump’s idiosyncrasies aside, the decision to withdraw, and the consequences thereof, are entirely within the bounds of US ruling class interests, so whether or not it was entirely accidental is not so material.

As Steven Simon, who served on the National Security Council in the Clinton and Obama administrations, puts it succinctly, Trump’s “impulsive and uncoordinated move” nevertheless “coincided with strategic imperative, even if the president himself was unaware of it.”

Of course, one could argue that a 24-hour withdrawal would indeed be destabilising, but it was naïve to believe that an order to withdraw would automatically mean that all US forces, weaponry, bases, aircraft and intelligence are gone the next day, whatever a tweet may say. Between Trump’s impulsive statements and the realities and complexities of actually withdrawing, there was plenty of wiggle room for Trump’s “immediate” withdrawal to turn into a four-month timetable, involving negotiation between Trump and other ruling class figures, such as Senator Lindsay Graham.

Graham got Trump to agree that complete withdrawal should only take place once ISIS is totally defeated in Syria, which has always been Trump’s own condition (though Trump is basically correct that the US and SDF have driven it from 99 percent of the country), and that “our Kurdish allies are protected.” Similar statements were then made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Meanwhile, the US military is reportedly establishing new military bases just across the Syrian border in Iraq, from where it can continue to bomb the last tiny piece of ISIS remaining. Despite alarmist forecasts that Trump was even selling out to ISIS, “between December 16 and December 29, US-led coalition military forces conducted 469 air and artillery strikes targeting ISIS in Syria.” The last major towns occupied by ISIS, Hajin and Kashmah, were captured by the SDF on December 25 and January 2 respectively.

Of course, none of the statements extending the withdrawal said anything whatsoever about pressure on the Assad regime. That has simply never had anything to do with the US presence, one way or another. Continue reading