Friday, September 9, 2011

Assad regime hold weakens

The Assad Regime’s Hold Continues to Weaken in Syria

By Rebecca Witonsky

In the past week, many new signs of the Syrian regime weakening its hold on the people have emerged. First of all, last Friday, July 1, 2011, Syria experienced the largest demonstrations so far to date since the beginning of the freedom uprising in March. The crowd estimates in Hama range from 300,000 from AP to 400,000 from the Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid. In addition, Mr. Abdulhamid estimated that last Friday’s protests included 100,000 people in Homs and 60,000 in Deir Ezzour. Thus, the three largest protests in Hama, Homs, and Deir Ezzour included 460,000 to 560,000 people.

Second, following the massive protests in Hama on Friday, the governor of Hama, Ahmed Abdul-Aziz, was fired. According to the Beirut-based Syrian activist Omar Idibi, Mr. Abdul-Aziz was reportedly fired because he refused to order the Syrian army to slaughter the protestors in Hama. Thus, his firing indicates that cracks are beginning to emerge at the highest levels of the Assad regime, and the fact that a high-ranking Syrian official is refusing to murder protestors is surely highly significant.

Third, the protestors are showing increased capacity to join together across ethnic and religious fault lines. For instance, Alawites and Sunnis marched together in Hama last Friday, and also thousands of Alawites, Ismailites, and Sunnis joined together in a protest last Friday in the Al-Salamiya area of Hama. Also, in the largely Kurdish area of Al Qamishly, Kurds, Arabs, Armenians, and Assyrians protested together against Assad last Friday. The Assad regime is trying to remain in power by exploiting ethnic and religious differenes and sowing fear among Alawites that a peaceful regime change will lead to a bloodbath against them. Thankfully, the protestors are gradually overcoming these ethnic and religious differences and thus undermining the regime.

The head of IDF intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, said the regime would remain in power as long as the protests do not reach Aleppo and Damascus. But in recent weeks the protests have actually begun to reach Aleppo, and in recent days the protests are now starting to spread to Damascus. According to the Syrian Local Coordination Committees, on Tuesday, July 5, 2011, demonstrations of unknown size occurred in several parts of Aleppo. On July 5, 2011, 200 young men and women marched in Baghdad Street in the heart of Damascus demanding immediate regime change. This incident seems to mark the first example of a demonstration calling for regime change in Damascus itself. Hopefully the protests will spread to other areas of Damascus and Aleppo soon so that the regime can fall at last and the Syrian people can start reclaiming control over their own destiny.

Maj.-Gen. Kochavi also dismissed reports about large-scale defections from the Syrian army. Kochavi believes that only 20-30 officers and a few hundred soldiers have defected from Syrian army. But Syrian human rights activist Wissam Tarif estimates that some 2,000 soldiers have left the Syrian army. In addition, a conscript who became a sniper has left the army, and he said that he fled the army along with a group of 20 other soldiers who left together. The fact that soldiers are leaving the army together in groups in an organized fashion suggests that the levels of defection are increasing in the Syrian army. The ability of soldiers to flee the army together in groups is another sign of the weakening of the Assad regime.

In addition, increasing numbers of officers appear to be deserting the army. According to The Syrian Interpreter YouTube site, at least three first lieutenants, a captain, and a Syrian air force intelligence officer and low-level intelligence officer in Aleppo have left the military in the last week alone. At least two First Lieutenants, Abdalla Odeh of Daraa and Amjad al Hameed of Rastan, come from largely Sunni areas. Captain Ayham Yihia Kurdi thanked Turkey and Kuwait for their support of the Syrian protestors and contrasted the positive stance of Turkey and Kuwait with the pro-regime stance of other Arab states. Captain Kurdi also called upon soldiers’ families to help their sons defect from the army.

The two intelligence officers from Aleppo gave particularly moving testimony of their reasons for leaving. Air Force intelligence officer Abdul Hamid al Abii stated that he defected to protest the murder of five protestors who were slaughtered inside the intelligence branch in Seif al Dewle area of Aleppo. The fact that the victims included three Kurds and two Arabs suggests that the regime may be targeting more Kurds for repression than Arabs. The regime buried these men in mass graves rather than returning their bodies to their family for a public funeral and burial. The regime obviously wanted to prevent more public funerals of protestors which can keep the uprising alive.

Abii also named his superiors as perpetrators of atrocities against the Syrian people. He states that he was ordered by brigadier general Adeeb Salama, head of air force intelligence in Aleppo, to follow and report on demonstrators in Kefrenbe city. He also says that he was ordered to kill seven individuals by brigadier general Salih Bisebees and colonel Zuheri Bitar. He names not only the perpetrators but also the victims as well. Abii’s detailed testimony will be very helpful to Syrian opposition groups in exile which are looking to file charges against the Syrian regime for crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court and possibly other legal venues.


Local Coordination Committee of Syria. Report of July 5, 2011. - First Lieutenant Abdalla Odeh Defects - June 26, 2011 - Air Force Intelligence Officer Abdul Hamid al Abii Defects - June 28, 2011 - First Lieutenant Bessem al Khalid Defects - June 28, 2011? - Staff Warrant Officer Mustafa Yihia al As’ad Defects (military intelligence in Aleppo) - June 28, 2011 - First Lieutenant Amjad al Hameed Defects, Homs, Rastan - June 29, 2011 - Captain Ayham Yihia Kurdi Defects, July 2, 2011

What Might a Post-Assad Syria Look Like?

By Rebecca Witonsky

I spoke by phone with Professor Bernard Lewis on July 1, 2011, and he expressed deep pessimism about a post-Assad Syria. He believes the largely Sunni protestors in Syria are burning Hezbollah and Iranian flags as a protest against Alawite and Shi’ite domination and not out of any respect for Israel and the Jews. He also thinks it is very unlikely that a post-Assad Syria will make peace with Israel and the Jews. He thinks that the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to take power in a post-Assad Syria.

On a broader level, Professor Lewis is not optimistic about the overall trend in the Middle East region. He thinks the whole region, not just Egypt, is going toward radical Islam. He believes the Western attempt to impose our values on the foreign Islamic civilizations of the Middle East is a mistake. He also think the misguided focuses on free and fair elections as opposed to the development of civil society and respect for the rights of women and minorities and freedom of speech is likely to bring radical Islam to power.

On the other hand, the Syrian activists Ahed al Hindi and Rami al Nakhle were much more optimistic about the future of their country than Professor Bernard Lewis. During a conference call with Cyberdissidents director David Keyes on June 16, 2011, Mr. Al Hindi dismissed entirely my concerns about the possibility of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of a post-Assad Syria. He stated that only 4 out of 31 members of an opposition group elected in a conference in Turkey in June were Muslim Brotherhood. He also noted that the Muslim Brotherhood has reached a kind of informal treaty with the Assad regime and froze its anti-regime activity.

Nakhle stated that the goals of the Syrian revolution as follows. “We are fighting for democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression…We don’t want to divide people….We are not like Egypt….We want a democratic state.” Nakhle also noted that the Muslim Brotherhood is unpopular on face book, stating that the face book page for the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood had only 400 followers. I believe that Nakhle, like many other young protestors, is placing excessive faith in new technology as a means of transforming society. Nakhle seems to forget the fact that the Iranian Islamist regime remains in power in part because Iranians are increasingly using face book rather than live protests as a means of organizing against the regime.

I believe that a post-Assad Syria is likely to combine both positive and negative elements. The protestors have made clear their preference for a democratic Syria based upon respect for human rights, freedom of speech, and also equal rights for all ethnic and religious groups. The Local Coordination Committees have done an excellent job of articulating their support for non-violent forms of protest and their desire for a democratic outcome to the removal of the Assad regime. The protestors’ increased capacity for overcoming ethnic and religious differences also suggests that a free Syria is likely to avoid open ethnic and religious conflict. The Muslim Brotherhood does not seem to be a major player in the Syrian opposition at this point, although that could change.

At the same time, a post-Assad Syria seems unlikely to make peace with Israel and the Jews. Most of the military defectors have started their statements with formulaic attacks on Israel and the Jews which suggest a total unwillingness to see the Jews as human beings. First Lieutenant Hamjeed even absurdly accused the Assad regime of being pro-Israel despite its longstanding open commitment to the destruction of Israel and the Jews. Thus, I highly doubt that a post-Assad Syria will make a peace treaty with Israel and the Jews. Just as I saluted a free Iraq from afar after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the removal of the Saddam regime, it looks like I will be saluting a post-Assad Syria from afar in the near future.


Ahed al Hindi and Rami Nakhle. Cyberdissidents Conference Call. June 16, 2011.

Professor Bernard Lewis. Personal Telephone Conversation. July 1, 2011.

First Lieutenant Amjad al Hameed Defects, Rastan - June 29, 2011 - - Air Force Intelligence Officer Abdul Hamid al Abii Defects - June 28, 2011

“I was armed in 2009. Since that date, I have been working for air force intelligence branch in Aleppo…I would report on the citizens in demonstrations in Syria. Then I was ordered by the brigadier general Adeeb Salama who is the head of air force intelligence in Aleppo to follow up the demonstrators in the cities of Kefrenbe and??? And to provide information on the demonstrators. I was also ordered by brigadier general Salih Bisebees and colonel Zuheri Bitar from the same branch to kill Jihad Za’tour, Hassan al Hamra, Bakour al Bakour, Muhammad al Bakour, Mukhlis al Hamoud, Ahmad Sa’diye, & Ayman al Derij from Kafrenbe city and that I reported on. There were assistants Nezir al Khaled and Hassan al Salih from the same branch as witnesses. I saw the killing of five demonstrators with my own eyes in Aleppo city, Seif al Dewle; three Kurds and two Arabs. They were killed in the branch after being arrested. They were buried in a mass

grave in Kefer-Hamra north of Aleppo around end of May. Because of this brutal / vicious act, I declare my defection and joining the free demonstrators in Syria - under no pressure - Syria is for the free, not for Assad’s family.”

First Lieutenant Amjad al Hameed Defects, Rastan - June 29, 2011 -

Agidiye tribe/family -

Defected to protest systematic repression and murder in his area - electricity and water cut off, women, children, and old people killed and deported from Rastan - A four year old girl was murdered in Hei al Sana’a - “because security forces shot at her. Bashar al Assad, is this child an ‘infiltrator’? …“he is a shield for Israel and he protected it for 40 year.Him and Nasrallah who says he supports resistance. What is the resistance he supports in Palestine? What has he done for Palestine?

Staff Warrant Officer Mustafa Yihia al As’ad Defects - June 28, 2011

(military intelligence in Aleppo)

I was an eyewitness on a case of killing a citizen inside Amneh mosque in Aleppo. He was killed before spelling the word ’freedom.’…He was one of the martyrs of the word. Regime’s Shabiha killed him…security elements were there and they thanked them for what they did. I confirm that I didn’t see any armed groups during my work except regime’s Shabiha. From my place here, I call on all the honorable in security branches to face their conscience, and not to stain their hands with the blood of our unarmed people. - Captain Ayham Yihia Kurdi Defects, July 2, 2011

“The safety of soldiers is their relatives’ responsibility; relatives should not allow their sons to return to their military units after their (military) vacations. I want to thank the Turkish government and the Kuwaiti National Council whose stances outweigh those of all Arab countries.

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