By: Mehrunisa Qayyum
Media focus on the heterogenous aspects of Syrian society, “Alawi minority versus the Sunni majority…BUT it’s not 10% vs. 90%, which is a silly game,” stated Dr. Bassam Haddad, an academic writer of the Syria’s contemporary politics. On Thursday, March 1, 2012, The Network of Arab American Professionals, Washington, DC Chapter (NAAP-DC) and Jadaliyya, an e-zine, co-hosted a dialogue on the Arab Awakening in Egypt and Syria. Held at Busboys & Poets, 5th Street location, NAAP-DC invited Bassam Haddad and Hesham Sallam to highlight the protest movements and their distinct developments regarding political oppositions.
The room was packed with both Arab Americans and non Arab Americans: over 100 attendees had their questions answered by Haddad and Sallam. Dialogue covered the socio-economic struggles, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and the Free Syrian Army. Haddad addressed the following points regarding Syria:
1) What is the key component?
2) Why is the regime still resilient?
3) What explains the stalemate?
4) Where is the uprising going?
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~Haddad stated, “Assad regime is far more coherent and cohesive than its counterparts in other Arab countries which had uprisings.”
~Sallam summarized, “revolutions don’t make demands or requests–they make things happen as seen in Egypt where we are seeing ‘transformative social change’.” Essentially, the biggest challenge is not just ending SCAF rule and influence. Rather, he concluded that ending Egypt’s military rule entails more than presidential elections even. Specifically, ending SCAF’s rule is about giving constitution and Egypt’s parliament more depth–not just the rhetoric.
~Haddad warned that arming the opposition in Syria is a double edged sword while sharing that Israel appears ambivalent about the current engagement with Syria. For instance, he related reports about weapons flowing into Syria have originated from Syrian military deserters, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan similar. Ironically, he noted, the inflow of weapons compares to the US experience when it complains about US-Mexican border issues regarding the drug trade. In a nutshell, if even the most advanced military has difficulty in monitoring its borders with one country, how can a nation like Syria monitor its border with three neighbors that have different interests at stake? In a similar vein, Gulf Cooperation Council countries, like Saudi Arabia (KSA), have an interest in supporting different groups in Syria as well. Although, KSA has denied efforts to directly arm Syrians, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Questions from the audience did not shy away from the controversial issues. For example, Human Rights attorney and activist, Noura Erakat asked Sallam which sectors the Supreme Council of Armed Forces in Egypt would be willing to let go as Egypt transitions into a more transparent, accountable society. Traditionally, the SCAF has controlled certain sectors of Egyptian economy. However, the exact ownership statistics waver between 30 percent or higher–depending on how one defines military ownership.
Also, Bassam responded to the costs and benefits of arming the opposition in Syria, as Secretary Clinton has worried out loud about last week as senior Republican senators, like Lindsey Graham, call for action.
Bassam Haddad is Director of the Middle East Studies Program and teaches in the Department of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University, and is Visiting Professor at Georgetown University.
~Wrote Business Networks in Syria: The Political Economy of Authoritarian Resilience.
~Editing a volume on “Teaching the Middle East After the Arab Uprisings.” Bassam serves as Founding Editor of the Arab Studies Journal a peer-reviewed research publication and is co-producer/director of the award-winning documentary film, About Baghdad.
Hesham Sallam is co-editor of Jadaliyya e-zine and a doctoral candidate in government at Georgetown University.
~Focuses on Islamist movements and the politics of economic reform in the Arab World.
~Affiliated with the United States Institute of Peace, Middle East Institute, Asharq Al-Awsat, and the World Security Institute.
Notable attendees included: Andy (Anas) Shallal, Busboys & Poets owner, and activist; Adel Iskander, Adjunct Faculty at Georgetown University; Noura Erakat, Human Rights attorney; Zohra Benhamida, local artist; Nermin Abdel Wahab, Activist; Ramah Kudaimi, Journalist; Sarah Hassaine, Journalist and Laila Mokhiber, Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee.