Today, Syria is reelecting president Bashar Assad for a new seven-year term in office. The process is done through a referendum, which means there will be no other challengers. The referendum paper has a green circle that says “Yes” and a gray one that says “No”. The result is expected to be 99.xx% in favour of the president – as is the tradition in Syria for the last 37 years.
Heads, I win … Tails, you lose
Syrian Presidential Referendum, Sunday 27 May 2007
The farce continues for 7 more years
Today, the parade. The government declared Thursday an official holiday in order to allow bureaucrats, undercover security agents and students alike to express their support, providing free bus transportation to and from the event. Responsible parties noted the names of those who might have forgotten to attend.
Tens of thousands – official accounts will tell us hundreds of thousands – of participants crowded downtown, waving likenesses of the president and nylon Syrian flags that were already frayed by 10 a.m.
Tony Badran, of The Syrian Monitor reports that, the opposition has decided to boycott the referendum…
As to whether a boycott is the best way to send a message and make the voice of the democratic opposition heard, Manna’ said, “I am personally against any presidential referendum, and I consider it to be a form of political fraud and deceit, conducted by the authoritarian regime to force citizens into being partners in the crime of violating free elections in broad daylight. It does not even rise to the level of the bay'a [the traditional political contract between ruler and ruled] known in Arab and Islamic history, nor is it remotely related to the idea of electing a president of the republic.”
The crowd was pretty diverse, and represented Syrians from various backgrounds, ethnic and political. There were also some American and Arab participants who wanted to show their support of our cause. For this, they have our lasting gratitude.
Moving on to our neighbor Lebanon, the last week witnessed very violent clashes between the Lebanese army and an Islamic extremist group by the name of Fatah al-Islam. The Lebanese army have closed on the group in a Palestinian refugee camp called Nahr el-Bared, which houses more than 33,000 refugees.
Lebanese politicians were quick to blame Syria for the group, and while this is always a possibility in a country like Lebanon, several reports came out contradicting that. Many of the reports have even claimed that the group was actually started and funded by the Lebanese anti-Syrian March 14th group, and particularly the majority leader Saad Hariri. Hariri, who is the son of the late prime minister, Rafik Hariri, was accused according to several reports [including this article by Seymor Hersh, which was published long before the clashes began] by funding Islamist Sunni groups with the help of the Saudis to combat the Shia influence in Lebanon, represented by Hizbulla. The reports say that the groups have turned against Hariri, because the funding stopped.
So if Syria dun it (which I am not saying it didn’t), did it ask the men to rob the bank, and to lead the army to them, and to make sure it would cause so many casualties in the army, and to then get shelled by the army, and for general chaos to ensue, so that the tribunal wouldn’t come? The analysis goes like this: the Syrian regime is trying to make sure that the tribunal does not happen, so it pushes some buttons and sets the area on fire. Not an unreasonable analysis. It’s also a logic that has the culprit assuming that the Lebanese would go running to the UN to retract the demand for an international tribunal under Chapter VII. Well, that’s what Murdoch’s increasingly trashy publication, The Times, says in yesterday’s editorial: it’s simply Syrian blackmail.
And while the political aspect is very vague, the humanitarian aspect is very clear. Over 30,000 Palestinian refugees are trapped in the camp, under heavy shelling and fighting, with no food and no water for the last five days. It is a real humanitarian crisis. As Golaniya reports her first hand observations when she went to the camp with an aid truck.
So today and after we delivered the supplies to the Safad Bedawi hospital, and to a clinic in Bedawi camp, we went to these theoretical meetings Swedish NGO called Save the Children which are organizing to “educate” the Palestinian refugees’ student since they are missing classes and all. So we are talking about people who have no place to stay, no covers, not enough food, no diapers, wounded, have missing families..etc and they are worried about educating them, so we left them alone with their meetings.
Abu Kareem, of Levantine Dreamhouse, reflects on the whole issue, and feels that it is time to settle the refugee crisis in Lebanon…
One thing that I am certain about it that it is time for Lebanon to change the way it deals with Palestinian refugee camps and their inhabitants. I blame both Palestinian and Arab leaders for the way the plight of three generations of Palestinian refugees was politicized. Everyone wanted them to remain refugees because, the logic went, if they settled (tawteen) in the land of their refuge, they would lose their right and their will to return to Palestine. So instead they languished in misery for 60 years. In Lebanon, their plight was complicated even further by fears that their presence was going to affect the sectarian mix. So the Lebanese state gave them few rights and restricted their ability to work. Most, consequently, remained stuck in abject poverty with no legal documents to allow them to go anywhere and not way to improve their lot. It is no wonder that the refugee camps, rife with despair, became breeding ground for extremism. Add to that the fact that the Lebanese authorities have no jurisdiction within the camps and you a have a recipe for repeated disasters.
Yazan, reflecting on the painful last 3 weeks, posts a link to one of Omar Amiralay's most impressive documentaries. A testimony of Saadallah Wannous, the late play writer, on the whole conflict from his own personal perspective, just few months before he surrendered to his cancer for the last time.
When I close my eyes, and see in the back of my head, images of Palestinians fighting against eachother, of a stateless people dragging themselves into a civil war.
No one can describe this utter feeling of helplessness you feel when you see one of the most genuinely painful Human causes, disintegrating.
I go back to Saadallah Wannous, and quote him, “There are many things that one can talk about…”