6 Oct. 2011,
While the world mourned the death of Apple founder Steve Jobs in California, many Syrians were quick to claim the computer genius as one of their own on Thursday through a little-known connection to his biological father.
Jobs, who died of cancer at the age of 56 on Wednesday, was given up for adoption soon after his birth in San Francisco to an American mother, Joanne Carole Schieble, and a Syrian-born father, Abdulfattah "John" Jandali.
Jandali, 80, a former academic, has told how Schieble's "tyrant" father refused to allow his daughter to marry a Syrian and so the baby was adopted by a married couple from California, Paul and Clara Jobs.
Only in recent years did Jandali, born in the Syrian city of Homs and latterly an executive of the Boomtown Casino in Reno, Nevada, realise that the Apple chief was his son.
"Without telling me, Joanne upped and left to move to San Francisco to have the baby without anyone knowing, including me," Jandali told the New York Post in an interview in August. "She did not want to bring shame onto the family and thought this was best for everyone."
With Jandali out of the picture at the outset, many Syrians were unaware of the connection between Apple and their homeland until recently. But they were quick to embrace Jobs when news broke of his death.
Users of the social networking site Twitter were also quick to draw parallels with Syria's uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, which has cost more than 2,900 lives, by a UN count.
"The wrong Syrian died today," said one Twitter user, echoing sentiments of the Syrian leader's bitter opponents.
"A sick world we live in when Steve Jobs has to die of cancer and Bashar al-Assad remains Syria's cancer," another opposition supporter said on the website.
Others hailed Jobs, whose Syrian links have been little mentioned until now, as "a great Arab American" and "the most famous Arab in the world".
In Syria, some people, who all declined to give their full names, said Jobs would have been unlikely to have had such a stellar career if he had lived in the land of his father's birth, where the Assad family has ruled for 41 years.
"I felt sad, not because he is of Syrian origin but because we will miss the inventor and his inventions," said Rana, a 21-year-old student. "But I think that if he had stayed in Syria, he would not have invented anything."
"This is sad and we will miss a lot of his achievements, but the company will continue," said Ali, a website designer. "If he had lived and died in Syria, he would not have accomplished anything."
A 28-year-old Damascus resident, who gave his name as Ahmed, said he was happy to learn that Jobs had Syrian antecedents, although he was unable to afford any of Apple's products.
"I think that if he had lived in Syria he would not have been able to achieve any of this, or else he would have chosen to leave Syria," Ahmed said.
Other Syrians regretted that Jobs had no roots of his own in his father's homeland.
"The sad thing is that he had lived and died abroad, and humanity lost him," said Maneh, a 27-year-old bank employee, who posted an image of the Apple founder on his Facebook page.
Thursday, 6 October 2011
They watered it down three times but still the Russians and Chinese vetoed the UN Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad for suppressing his own people. Cue for outrage from all the western governments. Alain Juppé, the French Foreign Minister, declared it "a sad day for the Syrian people" and a "sad day for the Security Council".
Susan Rice, the US representative to the UN, who walked out of the vote, went even further, calling it a "cheap ruse by those who would rather sell arms to the Syrian regime than stand with the Syrian people". The Syrian protesters, she declared, would now know who the true obstacles to their hopes were.
Well, steady on. China and Russia may be in part driven by a desire for pragmatic gain. Given Russia's behaviour in the Caucasus and Chinese treatment of the Uighars, no one could call either of them friends of Islam. But their view on this vote was influenced more than anything by their response to events in Libya. They went along, by abstention, with a UN resolution supporting direct military intervention because Colonel Gaddafi had become so unpopular and his actions so brutally oppressive that it was unwise to look as if you supported him. They now feel – not without reason – that the UN resolution in the case of Libya was used to justify military intervention for the purposes of regime change and they now don't want that to happen in Syria.
The western response to the unfolding tragedy of Syria has been the opposite. To the Europeans and the US the success of operations in Libya in toppling Gaddafi has only made them, and France and the UK in particular, all the more eager to ride the Arab revolution as it spreads.
The high rhetoric of the moment partly reflects the knowledge that, at present, the West can't intervene militarily in Syria. Any such action would have too many consequences in the region and would not – unlike Libya – have the support of the Arab League.
But the rhetoric also reflects a hunger by western leaders after Libya to ride this wave and to be seen to be cresting it. David Cameron and President Sarkozy feel themselves the victors in Tripoli and would care to seem the same in Damascus. If push came to shove and world opinion really turned against President Assad as it turned against Gaddafi, then they would be up for military action as Moscow and Beijing fear. But without the international consensus they are determined to be seen to be "doing something" to support the democratic cause.
The problem is that there's not very much they can do to influence events directly. Sanctions sound good but, in practice, as we know from Iraq, Zimbabwe and Burma, tend to reinforce the ruling regime rather than undermine it. You can make life more uncomfortable, and certainly more restrictive, by imposing sanctions on individuals but when it comes to trade and oil, the more you confine trade, the more it benefits the elite at the expense of the general public.
You can try, as the West did with the National Transitional Council in Libya, to help mould an alternative democratic opposition. Britain and France, as well as the US, are desperately trying to do this in Syria by helping with the creation of the Syrian National Council. But, again as we know from Iraq, such efforts are easier in theory than in practice.
Talking to the BBC this week, the US ambassador to Syria, William Burns, urged the protesters not to resort to arms but to keep their demonstrations peaceful. But this is just wishful thinking. Of course it would be nicer, not least for the West, if there could be a peaceful change of government in Syria. But regime-change is a game of power and the Alawite minority rulers have at the moment the weapons and the forces to keep the lid on revolution so long as it is peaceful and so long as Damascus and Aleppo remain under tight control. That may not last, as tightening economic circumstances turn the middle classes against the regime. But change now may only be possible by force of arms and army desertions.
The Assad regime is finished. Of that there can be little doubt. The best hope for peaceful change is an Alawite decision to let the family go as the price for keeping clan power. But even that now looks doubtful as the bitterness over the deaths across the country hardens into a desire for revenge.
There is nothing very much that the outside world can do but look on from the sidelines, hoping that the oppressed can overturn their oppressors with as little bloodshed as possible. But we can't stop it. The honest thing would be to moderate the posturing and admit it.
Tories can't have it both ways on Europe
The Tories are getting themselves into a muddle over Europe. On the one hand the Chancellor, George Osborne, and the Prime Minister want the eurozone to become a more cohesive and federal whole. On the other hand, they also don't want a tighter eurozone centre to start excluding and dominating those, like ourselves, on the fringes.
Well, you can't have it both ways, although politicians will always try. And the interesting thing at the moment is that you needn't try. Greece has undermined the support for an ever-closer EU run from Brussels. But it has also, as the Chancellor and PM admit, made its value to the British economy ever clearer. The future of Europe is an open question, if only we'd get in there to suggest answers.
With Rare Double U.N. Veto on Syria, Russia and China Try to Shield Friend
5 Oct. 2011,
UNITED NATIONS — By vetoing a Security Council resolution condemning Syria for its oppression of antigovernment forces, Russia and China effectively tossed a life preserver to President Bashar al-Assad, seemingly unwilling to see a pivotal ally and once stalwart member of the socialist bloc sink beneath the waves of the Arab Spring.
A double veto at the United Nations is rare, in this case driven by similar if not exactly parallel concerns in Moscow and Beijing about losing influence in the Arab world as one authoritarian government after another built on the now-faded Soviet model collapses.
“They are gambling that Assad can hold on now; it seems to be an expression of confidence that he can cling to power,” said Fiona Hill, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution.
Russia enjoys military and commercial deals with Syria worth billions of dollars annually, plus its alliance and only reliable Arab friend give it an entree into the Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. In addition, Moscow maintains perks left over from its superpower days, for instance, a naval base at Tartus, Syria, that accommodates visits by warships like Peter the Great, a nuclear-powered missile cruiser, during its Mediterranean jaunts.
China worries that the reverberations from falling Arab despots will inspire civil disobedience at home.
But beyond those concerns, and a stated interest in averting violent change in Syria, China and Russia are also increasingly allied in shutting down what they see as Western efforts to use sanctions and other economic measures to put the United Nations seal of approval on Western-friendly regime change.
There is a sense in both capitals that the West in general, and the United States in particular, is feeding the protest movements in the Arab world to further its own interests, experts said. Both the Chinese and the Russians are determined to reassert their long opposition to anything that smacks of domestic meddling by outside powers.
In that effort they have been joined by emerging powers like Brazil, India and South Africa, which have formed their own alliance and as current members of the Security Council all abstained from the Syria vote late Tuesday. Lebanon, where Syria holds sway, also abstained.
The resolution itself was toothless, demanding that the violence in Syria stop. The draft underwent repeated dilutions, which dropped all but the most vague reference to sanctions as a future possibility. But even that drew objections, in part because the cloud of Libya cast a long shadow over the Syria deliberations. The Russians and the Chinese said they felt bamboozled after a resolution they thought was meant to protect Libyan civilians became what they condemned as a license to wage war on the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. They are determined to avoid that in the Middle East and anywhere else.
Western diplomats said the consequences of the Libyan resolution were clearly laid out before the March vote.
Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador, told the Security Council on Tuesday night in his speech explaining the veto, “The demand for a rapid cease-fire turned into a full-fledged civil war.” He said that NATO bombed targets like television stations and oil facilities that were not a military threat to civilians.
Mr. Churkin said the veto was prompted by political differences over the use of force endorsed by the Council, rather than Syria’s long ties to the Soviet Union and any economic or arms sales losses. Indeed, Mr. Churkin seemed to go out of his way after the vote to distance Russia from the bloodshed fomented by the Syrian government while noting that unlike others, Moscow does not “cast aside old allies in a single breath.”
But there is a long history of close military and commercial ties. Hafez al-Assad, the current president’s father, was educated in Moscow and relied on the Soviet Union for weapons during the many Arab-Israeli wars. He died in 2000. Reports by Russian news outlets put current arms contracts at $4 billion. Beyond jet fighters and tanks, Russia has varied interests in Syria, like oil and gas and cement. Russia is ranked as the country’s fifth-largest trading partner, experts said.
“The departure of Assad would cause serious problems for us,” Aleksandr Sharavin, director of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis in Moscow, told the Prime-Tass news agency, noting that not just weapons sales but also maintenance contracts bring in large sums.
The Russian foreign minister issued a statement on Wednesday echoing the Syrian government line, condemning what it called extremists among the population for engaging in “open terror” through violent attacks.
“Assad simply has a better chance to resist than the opposition does to win,” Aleksandr Shumilin, director of the Center for the Analysis of Middle East Conflicts, told the BBC Russian service. Moscow, he said, “is betting on Assad. As soon as it seems that the opposition has become comparable to him in strength and there appears a possibility they will win, Russia will change its behavior.”
In many ways, Russian’s foreign policy machinery exists in a black box. But in the background, the looming shadow of Vladimir V. Putin’s returning to the presidency next year has to enter the calculus. “Everyone is reorienting toward the relatively more competitive attitude he had toward rolling back Western influence,” said Matthew Rojansky of the Carnegie Endowment.
As for the Chinese, it is exceedingly rare for them to exercise a veto. They would not have done it without Russia’s leading the way, Security Council diplomats said, and indeed the Chinese delegation told other diplomats that it was under pressure from Moscow not to abstain.
But the move coincides with numerous goals, experts said, including protecting commercial interests, avoiding any domestic contagion from the Arab Spring and choosing the status quo over an unpredictable future. “Their operative approach is ‘Just Say No,’ to stand in the way for fear they will lose what influence or control they have,” said Jonathan D. Pollack of Brookings.
Often when a great power exercises a veto to protect a client state, like the United States so often does for Israel, the issue disappears. But the Syria issue is likely to return, mainly because the country remains volatile and important neighbors like Turkey and the Arab League states want the issue addressed.
“We can all understand the push back against Western domination of the sanctions approach,” said George Lopez, a sanctions expert at the University of Notre Dame. “But sanctions at their best — sharp, targeted at the elites giving orders for the killing of civilians — can be effective.”
Armed opposition to Assad emerges
Thu, Oct 06, 2011
A group of military defectors known as the Free Syrian Army is emerging as the first armed challenge to President Bashar Assad's authoritarian regime after seven months of largely non-violent resistance.
Riad al-Asaad, the group's leader and an air force colonel who recently fled to Turkey, claimed yesterday that he now has more than 10,000 members and called on fellow soldiers to join him in overthrowing the "murderous" regime.
While analysts said those numbers might be inflated, Col al-Asaad was confident more soldiers would soon join his ranks.
"They will soon discover that armed rebellion is the only way to break the Syrian regime," he said in a phone interview from Turkey. "I call on all the honorable people in the Syrian army to join us so we can liberate our country," he said. "It is the only way to get rid of this murderous regime."
The dissident group is gaining momentum that signals a trend toward militarisation of the uprising. That momentum has raised fears that Syria may be sliding toward civil war.
The movement could propel the revolt by encouraging more senior level defections, or it could backfire horribly, giving the regime a new pretext to crack down even harder than it already has. Nearly 3,000 people have been killed in the violence since March, according to the UN and activists.
Until the rebels can secure a territorial foothold as an operational launching pad - much like the eastern city of Benghazi was for the Libyan rebels - the defections are unlikely to pose a real threat to the unity of the Syrian army.
"The Libyan model is looking increasingly attractive to the Syrian opposition," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at The Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. However, he described the dissident army as a "high risk, high reward situation."
He said territorial gains might encourage the international community to offer support and make regime change more real in the minds of outside observers.
"But the flip side of that is that it gives the regime . . . pretext to wipe out a city so it is a very risky move," Mr Hamid added.
International intervention, such as the Nato action in Libya that helped topple Muammar Gadafy is all but out of the question in Syria. Washington and its allies have shown little appetite for intervening in yet another Arab nation in turmoil. There also is real concern that Mr Assad's ouster would spread chaos around the region.
Syria is a geographical and political keystone in the heart of the Middle East, bordering five countries with which it shares religious and ethnic minorities and, in Israel's case, a fragile truce. Its web of alliances extends to Lebanon's powerful Hizbullah movement and Iran's Shia theocracy. There are worries that a destabilised Syria could send unsettling ripples through the region.
Col Al-Asaad, the leader of the Free Syrian Army, says all of the defections so far have been by Sunnis, mostly low-level conscripts. But he said he expects army support for Assad to unravel in the coming months as more people are encouraged to switch sides.
Many of the army's lower ranking soldiers are Sunni Muslims although most of the senior posts are held by members of president Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam, as well as other loyalists.
The Syrian opposition has welcomed the formation of the Free Syrian Army, which disseminates information through the Internet and a Facebook page, where they sometimes post claims of responsibility for alleged attacks against "Assad gangs" and the military. But it is unclear how much command the group actually has on the ground.
Small-scale defections have been reported in Syria since early on in the uprising. Col Al-Asaad said he defected from the army in July after refusing to heed orders to shoot at protesters.
"I couldn't take it anymore. I left along with others so we could be free and defend our families and people."
But the numbers have been increasing in the past few weeks. The defectors, armed mostly with rocket propelled grenades and guns, operate mainly in the central region of Homs and the northern Idlib province in the Jabal al-Zawiya region near the Turkish border.
Col Al-Asaad said an offensive in the central town of Rastan last week was meant to try to capture him and his comrades who announced the formation of several battalions, including the Khaled Bin al-Walid Battalion in Homs, named after a 7th century Muslim conqueror of Syria. The army retook Rastan after five days of heavy fighting with the defectors.
This week, the group posted a statement by the officers Khaled Bin al-Walid battalion announcing their withdrawal from Rastan to protect the lives of innocent civilians - and pledged more attacks.
The fighting in Rastan was the most dramatic illustration on the ground so far of the increasingly militarisation of the uprising. The Syrian government denies any defections.
Report: Syrian Salafists Holding ‘Secret’ Talks with Christian Officials in Lebanon
6 Oct. 2011,
Syrian Salafists, who have escaped their country, are holding “secret” talks with Lebanese Christians officials to explain to them about their vision for a “civil, democratic and plural” state in Syria if President Bashar Assad’s regime collapses, informed sources said.
The sources told pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat published Thursday that the Salafists have so far held five meetings with Christian parties and Sunni leaderships.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi has expressed fear that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Syria would threaten the existence of Christians in the region. He has called for allowing Assad to introduce the reforms that he has promised.
The newspaper said that Lebanese Christian politicians have helped the Salafists hold meetings with U.S. and European officials to push them towards taking a decisive stance from the Assad regime.
The Salafists stressed that their vision for a new rule in Syria is not based on extremism. On the contrary, they are hoping that the collapse of Assad would bring a new era of democracy and voting.
The informed source refused to say if the meetings are taking place with representatives of the Phalange party or any other side, only saying: “Muslims and Christians are cooperating to make these meetings successful.”
The Salafi sect believes most modern Muslims follow a corrupted version of Islam that should be abandoned in favor of the practices of the first three generations of Muslims, the Salaf.
HOME PAGE Syria: Statement on Zaynab al-Hosni
Posted: 06 October 2011
Last month Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued statements following the killing and mutilation by unknown persons of a woman in Syria believed to be Zaynab al-Hosni.
Zaynab had vanished from her home in Homs in late July and her family said that they had searched for her to no avail.
Al-Hosni’s family had confirmed to Amnesty and HRW that they had identified her body at a military hospital in Homs. On 17 September staff at the hospital invited al-Hosni’s mother to identify the body of a woman that had been brought to them, in light of the fact that Zaynab had been reported missing for over two months.
The mother identified the body as that of her missing daughter. The head and arms had been cut off and parts of the body, including the face, were heavily burned. The family subsequently held a funeral and buried the body.
Yesterday (4 October) Syrian state television aired an interview with a woman who identified herself as Zaynab al-Hosni. In the interview, she says that she left her family’s house to escape ill-treatment by her brothers. Al-Hosni’s family subsequently confirmed that the woman who appeared on Syrian television is indeed Zaynab. The family has not been able to speak to her to verify her current situation.
Amnesty and HRW regret any inaccuracy in the misidentification of the body as that of Zaynab al-Hosni; both organisations regularly verify their information with multiple and independent sources. Amnesty published its news release after speaking directly to one of Zaynab’s brothers. HRW later interviewed in person al-Hosni’s mother, as well as a brother who washed the corpse prior to burial, after they had escaped Syria to a neighbouring country. It now appears that Zaynab’s family misidentified the body that was presented to them due to the extensive damage it had suffered.
The organisations are calling on the Syrian authorities to immediately take steps to identify the woman whose body was buried, and to hold an investigation into the brutal, gruesome murder of a Syrian woman, as well as the wide-scale human rights violations that are occurring on a daily basis in Syria.
HRW and Amnesty are also calling on the Syrian government to grant immediate access to independent human rights investigators, including the United Nations Commission of Inquiry set up in August.
The estimated death toll since the security forces began cracking down on protests in Syria six months ago now exceeds 2,600 people. Despite this, yesterday the UN Security Council again failed to take a firm and legally binding position on the human rights crisis in the country.