First meeting of the Syrian National Dialogue

International affairs

Editorial: The West and Syria
Unlike other Arab leaders confronted to a protest movement such as former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak or Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a wide political reform program coupled with a reasonable timetable extending until the end of 2011 at the most. This change which was initiated by Mr. Al-Assad extended beyond the demands of the vast majority of the people and aims at leading Syria out of an archaic and controversial system which prevailed throughout fifty years towards a modern and democratic state. These reforms include - among others - the revision of the constitution and namely article 8 which monopolizes power in the hands of the Baath party, the adoption of a law on partisan plurality, the drafting of a new media law and a new modern electoral law, and the elaboration of a new law related to the local councils.
In order to guarantee the success of these reforms and ensure that they reflect the real aspirations of the majority of the Syrian people, Bashar Al-Assad came up with a mechanism based on dialogue and discussion. He could have promulgated these laws through presidential decrees as his prerogatives allow him to do so. However, he decided to ensure the participation of the political, intellectual, cultural and economic elite as well as the loyalists, oppositionists and the independent figures so that the change is not imposed from above and is the fruit of wide popular consensus.
In parallel to this process some oppositionist powers, namely the radical Islamic movement which includes certain wings from the Muslim Brotherhood and Takfiri, Salafi and Wahhabi groups are fueling sectarian dissent and hatred through a speech from the Middle Ages conveyed by media outlets with obscure sources of financing.
Throughout weeks, the Western media outlets completely disregarded the emergence of armed groups, although 400 military men were killed and 1,300 wounded since the beginning of the incidents on March 15. After AFP published photos of armed insurgents near the Syrian-Turkish border and UPI carried reports about the attacks against the security forces, the public opinion started to realize that the images it was receiving of the events in Syria were biased and partial. This violent opposition is leading a fierce political and media campaign against the Syrian regime in Western capitals and is pleading for a military intervention by NATO in Syria. This was the main goal of the Syrian oppositionists who convened in Saint Germain in Paris, while irresponsibly ignoring the fact that any war against Syria could extend beyond the border and ignite a wide-scale fire throughout the Middle East. Moreover, the dismantlement of the Syrian state –similar to what was seen in Iraq following the American invasion- will allow groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda to gain a new “land of jihad” on Europe’s border. Islamic terrorism will have a chance to regenerate itself by presenting any war launched by NATO as being a modern time Crusade against the Land of Islam.

News analysis: Syria in the face of foreign interference
During this past week, the Syrian events witnessed many important developments that will cast their shadows on the situation, at a time when the national centralized state is showing determination to launch the move towards a new stage through the launching of national dialogue which was called for by President Bashar al-Assad to discuss a package of constitutional and legal changes that would set the foundations for a pluralistic regime and meet the aspirations of the Syrian people.
 Firstly: Foreign interference in Syria bluntly escalated through the presence of the American and French ambassadors in the city of Hama during the demonstrations that were staged on Friday, after it has become known that the Western embassies are establishing direct ties with the opposition and its symbols on the domestic arena and playing a role in politically directing their programs. This provocative step raised wide popular anger in Syria and confirmed the Western attempts to prevent the launching of dialogue and ensure the continuation of the crisis by providing a political umbrella to the opposition groups which enjoy relations with the Western governments and the Zionist lobby.
 Secondly: The direct goal behind the Western action on the ground aimed at securing a patch of influence inside the country, in order to set the foundation for interference after the Syrian state thwarted the attempt to control –by use of arms- a border region that could have provided the desired bridge for military interference under the headline of relief and humanitarian aid.
 Thirdly: The Syrian opposition on the domestic arena was blackmailed by the groups linked to the West and Israel, and which participated in the Saint Germain and Antalya meetings. They are rejecting dialogue under the slogan of seeing the halting of the security solution in advance, without offering a realistic solution to the existing security problem. Indeed, they are still denying the presence of an armed wing of takfiris and Muslim Brotherhood elements who are active on the ground and are exploiting the protests.
The oppositionists who are celebrating Western support will eventually discover that the United States is using them as a bargaining card on the table of negotiations, around which it is trying to sit with President Bashar al-Assad. In the meantime, Syria’s leader has settled his choice with his people through the launching of the renewal process that will affect the state and its institutions and the defiance of the pressures and the foreign interferences.

Arab affairs

The backdrop of the renewed conflict in Egypt
The stormy developments witnessed in Egypt point to the fact that the course of crumbling changes and renewed political conflicts will govern the Egyptian reality for a long time before the new political authority and its institutions settle down.
 Firstly: The events seen during the last two weeks reveal the presence of a wide and active popular base accompanying the revolution youth and the political organizations seeking the hastening of change and the deterrence of the United States’ attempts to establish a ceiling for the Egyptian regime, including the military council and the Muslim Brotherhood organization. This would renew Western colonial hegemony and ensure the continuation of the Egyptian security and political commitments, thus respecting Israel’s interests and preventing the recanting of the Camp David accords. This political clash that has generated a massive popular action which imposed itself on the Muslim Brotherhood’s command and the military council was staged under the headline of holding the symbols of the former regime accountable, after the revolution youth exposed a deal set up by the Americans to revive the group that constituted the nucleus of the authority during the days of President Hosni Mubarak. In the meantime, information revealed that Brigadier General Omar Suleiman is still playing a pivotal role in drawing up the inclinations of the military council and controlling the authority, especially at the level of the Egyptian security institution.
 Secondly: Information is circulating in the Egyptian political circles about a direct American and Israeli support to Amr Moussa’s presidential campaign, which is also backed up by Saudi Arabia.
 Thirdly: The United States is using two cards to subdue the Egyptian state, i.e. the economic situation and sectarian strife.
Egypt is still in labor and facing the threat of a coup against the slogans of the popular revolution. It is clear that while the majority of the people, the revolution youth and the national political forces are standing in one camp, the Muslim Brotherhood, the army generals and the remnants of Mubarak’s regime are standing in another. The equation that will prevail as a result of the conflict between these two camps will determine Egypt’s future.

The Arab file

• Around one hundred independent social figures from the different provinces held a meeting in Damascus under the headline “National Initiative for Syria’s Future.” The convened agreed to find ways to stop the violence, adopt the language of dialogue and reason, fight the acts of the armed gangs and investigate the side responsible for the deterioration of the security situation, the killings and the sabotage.
• In the meantime, Switzerland froze Syrian assets estimated at 27 million Francs, i.e. around 32 million dollars, and the information was confirmed by the Swiss economic authority.
• The Syrian oppositionists were divided over the participation in a conference in the presence of French Zionist Bernard-Henri Levy, the theoretician of the Libyan revolution, in light of criticisms made by other oppositionists, especially on the Syrian domestic arena.
• For its part, Al-Hayat newspaper carried this week an interview with Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa. The latter told Al-Hayat that the national dialogue conference in Syria aimed at creating a positive climate allowing the development of the existing political and economic structure. He said: “This dialogue wants to ensure the creation of a democratic pluralistic system in which the final say will be voiced through the ballot boxes.”
Sharaa added: “The president of the republic decided to launch national dialogue and this has clearly become a popular demand and a national requirement. We believe that dialogue will secure the resolution of the current crisis since all the political parties, movements and social classes will be able to express their opinions. This meeting will help construct Syria’s future.” Sharaa also assured that this dialogue’s main goal was to change the general mood and develop the political, social and economic structures in Syria through a number of new laws and regulations that would secure the establishment of a democratic and pluralistic system.
_ • Al-Hayat then asked the Syrian vice president about the criteria adopted when selecting the figures who will participate in dialogue. He said: “Once it was formed, the national dialogue committee held a number of confidential meetings. It engaged in many contacts and it was finally decided that the participants in the conference should include members of the Baath party and the National Progressive Front, the opposition forces and the independent figures. But I must also recognize that the number of independent figures rose during the last stage. Still, I do not think that this will affect the conference.”

• NATO destroyed massive amounts of heavy artillery owned by Gaddafi while the Libyan revolutionaries carried out a fierce attack against the Libyan leader’s forces that are positioned in the capital Tripoli from the south and the west.
• They thus gained control over the village of Kawalish that is fifty kilometers away from the capital, but also over the entire Western mountains area while continuing to advance inside Misratah and Zlitan.
• Sayf al-Islam al-Gaddafi assured that the conflict in Libya could not be resolved without his father, while Abdul Jalil assured: “There is nothing left for Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to do but to step down and stand before justice.”
• A Libyan investigation judge in Tripoli announced that twenty one members of the transitional council that represents the Libyan revolutionaries will be tried in the coming weeks before a special tribunal on charges of “undermining Al-Fateh revolution and its leader Muamamr Gaddafi, meeting with foreign states such as France, America and Britain to instigate them to attack Libya, and facilitating the entry of hostile states to the country.”

• Greece prevented Greek and foreign ships from sailing towards the blockaded Gaza Strip under the pretext of protecting the passengers of the humanitarian aid convoy that includes ten boats. In the meantime, the Israeli police deployed its troops at the Lod Airport in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. On Friday, the occupation police arrested 69 people at the Ben Gurion airport after they had come to show solidarity with the Palestinian people, in preparation for their deportation. As for the Israeli Interior Ministry, it surrendered a black list including the names of around 340 foreign activists who support the Palestinians and asked the international airline companies not to allow them to travel to Tel Aviv on their planes because they are “unwanted in Israel.”
• Dozens of activists supporting the Palestinian cause demonstrated in several European states, while the occupation troops continued their bombing of Palestinian positions in the Strip, the destruction of homes and the launching of campaigns of arrests.

• Around a million Egyptians participated in the Friday of insistence pn Tahrir square in Cairo and addressed a warning to the ruling military council regarding the achievement of the revolution’s goals. Thousands among them threatened to stage an open sit-in on the square until all their demands are met, while massive crowds participated in demonstrations throughout Egypt in the widest protests ever since the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak.

• Tens of thousands of Yemeni protesters demonstrated in Sana’a, Taez and Haja against the deterioration of the living and economic situation in the country, demanding at the same time the formation of a transitional council to replace the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemen has been witnessing violent clashes between the pro-Saleh presidential Guards and the opposition tribes –backed by dissident military forces- resulting in the fall of many victims. In parallel, tens of thousands of Yemenis protested against what they described as being “Saudi tutelage” over their country.
• War jets, which many sources said were likely American, launched air raids against alleged positions for Al-Qaeda organization in the southern Abyane province. And thirty three days after the attempted assassination that targeted him, President Ali Abdullah Saleh appeared on the Yemeni television for the first time to deliver a speech in which he saluted the Yemeni people. He wondered: “Where are the conscious, the honest and the believers who fear god? Why do they not stand alongside dialogue to reach satisfactory solutions? We are not against participation.”

• South Soudan’s secession was officially announced on Saturday and it was named and independent state with a capital other than Khartoum and a flag other than the Sudanese one. On the eve of this event, Khartoum officially recognized the state of South Soudan and a celebration was staged in Juba to proclaim independence with wide international presence. Washington announced that its consulate in Juba will become an embassy as of Saturday. It is worth mentioning at this level that many countries recognized the independent state of South Sudan and that the celebrations were held in the presence of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. However, the fact that Israeli flags were raised generated wide disgruntlement and condemnation among many Arab observers.

Lebanese Affairs

Editorial: Null response to blunt facts
Ever since Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah delivered a speech in which he presented dangerous information backed up by facts and documents pointing to the international tribunal’s link to American and Israeli will, the March 14 forces launched a justification and response campaign which tackled many of the points that were raised by Sayyed Nasrallah and that condemned the tribunal and its supporters who are still asking the Lebanese people to succumb to the American will under the headline of international legitimacy and the international community.
 Firstly: Robert Baer’s presence at the office of the international prosecutor as an adviser was faced with a response saying it was normal for the tribunal to deal with former intelligence officers. However, the integrity of any tribunal relies on the selection of neutral experts at the level of their positions, inclinations and professional backgrounds. And if the names mobilized since the beginning of the international investigation are characterized by their hostility towards the resistance and Syria and their implication in security, political and judicial conspiracies which targeted them in favor of Israel, that integrity is undermined.
 Secondly: Robert Baer’s case was extremely blunt as he underlined in one of his books the nature of the tasks he carried out in Lebanon. He clearly said he specialized in pursuing the Lebanese resistance and martyred leader Imad Mughniyeh to kill him, but more dangerously recognized his responsibility in the planning and implementation of the Bir al-Abed massacre that claimed the lives of over one hundred people.
 Thirdly: The shipping of the computers and technical devices of the international investigation committee to Israel constituted a blunt proof for the media and political thuggery that governed the response to Sayyed Nasrallah’s speech. Deputy Marwan Hamade tried to outsmart the secretary general of Hezbollah by saying that these devices belonged to the truce monitoring committee, at which point his counterparts in March 14 repeated the same like parrots. However, the shock emerged after Al-Manar channel presented another document assuring that the truce committee shipped the equipment to Israel with a statement confirming that they came from the international investigation committee in Monteverde.
If you were to add all this information to the March 14 forces’ determination to protect the false witnesses and the employees involved in this file, it becomes obvious that the special Israeli tribunal for Hezbollah is one of this team’s last cards in the attempt to regain the lost power due to the bad calculations and assessments.

The Lebanese file
• The Lebanese papers issued this week tackled two main events. The first was Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s speech on Saturday and the documents he presented to expose the course of the international investigation, the international tribunal and those working in it. As for the second event it was the discussion of the ministerial statement in parliament and the earning by Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government of the vote of confidence with a majority of 68 votes. This happened despite the attempts made by the opposition to obstruct the sessions and generate turmoil. However, the majority’s insistence on seeing the calm staging of the discussions, allowed smooth debates and blocked the road before the March 14 forces that had nothing to do at the end of the day but withdraw from the session when the time came to give the new government the vote of confidence.
• Leaders and figures from the March 14 forces convened at the Bristol Hotel and produced a call announcing the arrival of the “era of truth and justice.” What was noticeable however was that the convened called for an Arab boycotting of Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government, and threatened with unprecedented international pressures on this government. In the meantime, the Maronite bishops meeting headed by Patriarch Bechara al-Rahi considered that “the issuance by the international tribunal of its indictment at a time when the new government was preparing to discuss the ministerial statements generated controversy and widened the gap between the political parties in Lebanon,” thus calling on all the political officials to maintain domestic dialogue and unify the visions

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