Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Hafez Assad

This historical wrong-timing calamity 4 decades mistake:How Lebanon civil war lasted that long?

Late Hafez Assad troops crosses Lebanon borders in 1976

Note: an update of my article posted in August 2018

This historical error of judgement by Syria late Hafez Assad in 1976: Lebanese are still paying its dear price, 50 years later.

The Lebanese “progressive” movement of political parties, allied with Palestine Liberation Organization (Yaser Arafat, who was a Muslim Brotherhood)), were massed in the town of Dhour Shouweir and ready to enter Bikfaya and descend on Jounieh (supposedly a stronghold of the Christian militias forces).

The US ambassador hurried to Damascus to convince Hafez to cross the borders and prevent the defeat of the Christian militias.

The US and Israel gave Syria the green light and dangled all kinds of opportunities for Assad to move quickly, a one-life opportunity to take control of a big chunk of Lebanon, sort of a mandated power.

The “Leftist” alliance needed barely 3 weeks to end their plan of attack.

Hafez didn’t give them that reprieve and ordered them to stop the attack.

Surely they resisted the onslaught of the Syrian army and delayed for 6 months the Syrian army to deploy.

But the “Christian” militias were saved and given fresh opportunities to resume their traditional treacherous activities before and after Lebanon independence of begging the colonial powers and Israel to continue their international support and weapon transfer.

The “Christian” leaders have always been the confirmed stooges to the colonial powers, on the faked and untenable assumption that their survival is linked to the firm colonial support.

Though previous experience and successive later ones proved to be wrong and the colonial powers didn’t give any weight for the minority Christian forces, militarily and politically

So, what convinced Hafez, this level headed and patient leader, to cross in the wrong timing?

It was easy to surmise that in critical periods, the clan and minority spirit overcome the general concept of unity of the nation.

minority “Muslim” Alawi sect in power in Syria, coming to the rescue of a minority Maronite “christian” sect that was in power a year ago, before the start of Lebanon civil war. (Then the Maronite President had vast power. After the Taef agreement in 1990, most of those powers reverted to the Sunni Prime Minister)

Kind of minorities in power rescuing one another in critical junctions.

Obviously, Hafez was Not about to state this inclination and he proclaimed that the decision was taken months ahead of US demand to cross the border.

Israel agreed for the Syrian army to cross Lebanon borders with easy conditions: that the army stay clear from Lebanon southern borders with Israel (a “buffer zone” of about 40 km deep) and Not to transfer or equip its mandated troops with quality weapons that might constitute threat to Israel security.

Consequently, the Lebanese christian militias had an easy propaganda to resume their cooperation with Israel: Hafez was guaranteed a life-long power over Syria and is Not independent in his foreign decisions and affairs.

This historical decision to cross the border, 3 weeks before taming the christian militias, exacerbated the situation and let the civil war continue till 1992.

From 1976 til 1984, the Christian forces harassed militarily the Syrian troops in location they had a majority population: They forgot that it was the Syrian troops that saved them from oblivion.

The Lebanese civilians paid the heaviest of prices: mass transfer to newly created sectarian cantons.

Syrian controlled Lebanon til 2005 before withdrawing its troops.

From 1991 and on, military activities by Christian forces against the Syrian stopped since the world community agreed on a peaceful transition, but street demonstrations flurried up now and then.

There were No Victors in this protracted civil war and the militia “leaders” of all religious sects returned to power and they were ruling Lebanon for 3 decades.

(This current mass upheaval of the newer generations is a scream against this mafia/militia “leaders” monopoly over every consumer goods, energy, financial transactions, services, medicine…)

Since 2001, Lebanon has been declining economically, financially, politically and administratively: transformed into an anomie system where every deputy owns a basic business in Lebanon and swap shares without paying a dime in the transactions.

No public institutions function normally: No public electricity, potable water, polluted rivers and sea, and one third of the families relying on public services paychecks.

Israel also committed a strategic historical mistake by crossing Lebanon borders in 1982, entered Beirut, and forced the PLO to vacate Lebanon.

Since then, Israel had no valid lame excuses of trespassing the borders to attack Palestinian incursions within its borders.

Israel grabbed the excuse of the existence of Palestinian armed forces on its border to bomb the southern towns in order to chase these Lebanese out of their lands and take them over. Which she did for 25 years until it withdrew its troops in 2000 without any pre-conditions

Lebanon national movement to resist and kick out Israel occupation was constituted and Hezbollah was organized after Islamic Iran came to power in 1979.

Israel could no longer rely on the Palestinians refugees to destabilize Lebanon society.

Israel is currently on the defensive and unable to pre-empt any war on Lebanon, since its defeat in the 2006 war.

Wrong timing is accelerated by faulty and deformed idea-fix passions.

This historical wrong-timing calamity mistake: Late Hafez Assad troops crosses Lebanon borders in 1976

This historical error of judgement by Syria late Hafez Assad in 1976: Lebanese are still paying its dear price, 50 years later.

The Lebanese “progressive” movement of political parties, allied with Palestine Liberation Organization, were massed in the town of Dhour Shouweir and ready to enter Bikfaya and descend on Jounieh (supposedly a stronghold of the Christian militias forces).

The US ambassador hurried to Damascus to convince Hafez to cross the borders and prevent the defeat of the Christian militias.

The US and Israel gave Syria the green light and dangled all kinds of opportunities for Assad to move quickly, a one-life opportunity to take control of a big chunk of Lebanon.

The “Leftist” alliance needed barely 3 weeks to end their plan of attack.

Hafez didn’t give them that reprieve and ordered them to stop the attack.

Surely they resisted the onslaught of the Syrian army and delayed for 6 months the Syrian army to deploy.

But the “Christian” militias were saved and given fresh opportunities to resume their traditional treacherous activities before and after Lebanon independence of begging the colonial powers and Israel to continue their international support and weapon transfer.

The “Christian” leaders have always been the confirmed stooges to the colonial powers, on the faked and untenable assumption that their survival is linked to the firm colonial support. Though previous experience and successive later ones proved to be wrong and the colonial powers didn’t give any weight for the minority Christian forces, militarily and politically

So, what convinced Hafez, this level headed and patient leader, to cross in the wrong timing?

It was easy to surmise that in critical periods, the clan and minority spirit overcome the general concept of unity of the nation.

A minority “Muslim” Alawi sect in power in Syria, coming to the rescue of a minority Maronite “christian” sect that was in power a year ago, before the start of Lebanon civil war.

Kind of minorities in power rescuing one another in critical junctions.

Obviously, Hafez was Not about to state this inclination and he proclaimed that the decision was taken months ahead of US demand to cross the border.

Israel agreed for the Syrian army to cross Lebanon borders with easy conditions: that the army stay clear from Lebanon southern borders with Israel (a “buffer zone” of about 40 km deep) and Not to transfer quality weapons that might constitute threat to Israel security.

Consequently, the Lebanese christian militias had an easy propaganda to resume their cooperation with Israel: Hafez was guaranteed a life-long power over Syria and is Not independent in his foreign decisions and affairs.

This historical decision to cross the border, 3 weeks before taming the christian militias, exacerbated the situation and let the civil war continue till 1992.

From 1976 til 1984, the Christian forces harassed militarily the Syrian troops in location they had a majority population: They forgot that it was the Syrian troops that saved them from oblivion.

The Lebanese civilians paid the heaviest of prices: mass transfer to newly created sectarian cantons.

Syrian controlled Lebanon til 2005 before withdrawing its troops. From 1991 and on, military activities by Christian forces against the Syrian stopped since the world community agreed on a peaceful transition, but street demonstrations flurried now and then.

There were No Victors in this protracted civil war and the militia “leaders” of all religious sects returned to power and they rule Lebanon til now.

Since 2001, Lebanon has been declining economically, financially, politically and administratively: transformed into an anomie system where every deputy owns a basic business in Lebanon and swap shares without paying a dime in the transactions.

No public institutions function normally: No public electricity, potable water, polluted rivers and sea, and one third of the families relying on public services paychecks.

Israel also committed a strategic historical mistake by crossing Lebanon borders in 1982, entered Beirut, and forced the PLO to vacate Lebanon.

Since then, Israel had no valid lame excuses of trespassing the borders to attack Palestinian incursions within its borders. Lebanon national movement to resist and kick out Israel occupation was constituted and Hezbollah was organized after Islamic Iran came to power in 1979.

Israel could no longer rely on the Palestinians refugees to destabilize Lebanon society.

Israel is currently on the defensive and unable to pre-empt any war on Lebanon, since its defeat in the 2006 war.

Wrong timing is accelerated by faulty and difformed idea-fix passions.

30 Years Later, Photos of Hama massacre Emerge From Killings In Syria

Why now? Why never shown before? Political alliances then? Where are the bodies in these pictures? The world was more prude? Facts were known? By whom?

In 1980, the Syrian Moslem Brotherhood launched a series of bloody attacks on Syrian army and police forces. Hafez Assad was in contact with Turkey and Egypt (hotbed of Moslem Brotherhood) in order to reach a negotiated settlement. At no avail. Hama was then surrounded and the insurrection put down. The Syrian Brotherhood was persecuted for decades after the insurrection and many fled to Turkey and the Gulf Emirates.

Currently, No Gulf States or Saudi Kingdom are willing to welcome Syrian refugees, although they were the ones who funded all these extremists factions and armed them with Western weapons

Wikileaks has recently divulged documents testifying that Turkey’s Erdogan is the power behind ISIS and supported its expansion in Iraq in order to control the Kurds there and to impress on Syria to include the Brotherhood in the government.

Syria’s President Hafez Assad brutally crushed an uprising in the central city of Hama in 1982. The event was remarkable not just for the scale of the violence, but also because virtually no photos were published.

As Syrians mark the 30th anniversary, some long-hidden photos are emerging on the Internet, but their origins are difficult, if not impossible, to trace.

In some instances, the photos are of well-known sites in Hama and former residents confirmed the locations. In other instances, there was virtually no information available.

A former Hama resident, Abu Aljude, provided some photos and directed NPR to others.

Syria’s protest generation is obsessed with images.

Thousands of videos have been posted on YouTube during the 10-month revolt against President Bashar Assad’s regime, even as regime snipers take deadly aim at the photographers.

The smugglers who carry critical medical supplies to underground clinics in protest cities also smuggle in cameras hidden in baseball caps and pocket pens. The obsession comes from the conviction that documenting the brutality will stop it — this time.

This is all part of the legacy of the Hama massacre of February 1982, the last time Syrians rose up against the rule of the Assad family.

The facts of that event are well-known, but the photographic evidence has been scant. Then, Syria’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood led an uprising centered in Hama, a central city of around 400,000.

In response, President Hafez Assad, the father of the current president, ordered 12,000 troops to besiege the city. That force was led by Hafez Assad’s brother Rifaat. He supervised the shelling that reduced parts of Hama to rubble. Those not killed in the tank and air assault were rounded up. Those not executed were jailed for years.

To this day, the death toll is in dispute and is at best an estimate.

Human rights groups, which were not present during the slaughter, have put the toll at around 10,000 dead or more. The Muslim Brotherhood claims 40,000 died in Hama, with 100,000 expelled and 15,000 who disappeared. The number of missing has never been acknowledged by the Syrian leadership. (Was it acknowledge by any international institution?)

Details Emerged Slowly

In the weeks and months that followed, news of the events in Hama dribbled out. But there were virtually no photos or any international reaction.

Yet Hama stands as a defining moment in the Middle East. It is regarded as perhaps the single deadliest act by any Arab government against its own people in the modern Middle East, a shadow that haunts the Assad regime to this day.

And now, three decades later, photos from Hama in 1982 are beginning to circulate on the Internet. One of the people compiling photos of Hama is Abu Aljude, who was a 16-year-old living in Hama at the time of the slaughter.

“It took three weeks. We stayed in school overnight because we couldn’t walk back home. We walked over dead bodies. There were bodies in the streets,” says Abu Aljude, now a medical technical expert living in California.

“I wonder if dying then is less painful than surviving it and living the memories,” he says. Abu Aljude still has relatives in Hama and fears they could face reprisals if his full name were revealed.

Many of the Hama survivors fled to the United Arab Emirates, including Firas Tayar.

“When the soldiers came, they took my father, then they came back to take my brother. They killed them,” says Tayar. “My mother cried and said, ‘Please leave me the rest of my children.’ ”

Tayar says the images of burning bodies in the streets are burned into his memory. “They hammered it, they ended it,” Tayar says of the regime’s scorched-earth policy that put down the rebellion.

While the Syrian army was still laying siege to Hama, Abu Aljude and other members of his family fled for Saudi Arabia. As he was preparing to go, a neighbor handed over snapshots of the savage destruction to Abu Aljude for safekeeping.

“I had pictures,” says Abu Aljude, “but I didn’t know what to do with them.”

Daily Videos Of Current Violence

These photos are part of the slim documentation of Hama. But these days, the yellowed pictures of Hama in 1982 are making it to the Internet, along with the current cellphone videos of the latest assaults by the security forces on Hama and other restive towns.

A new generation under siege has modern tools to document and distribute recordings of regime brutality, but increasingly wonders whether the images make any difference as the world looks on.

“Politically, it has affected the Assad regime. But does it bring in the cavalry? No,” says Andrew Tabler, a Syrian expert and author of a recent book, In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle with Syria.

(Note: The siege of Hama coincided with the pre-emptive invasion of Israel to Lebanon. Israel even entered the Capital Beirut and remained in south Lebanon till 2000)

He believes the thousands of videos have constrained the Assad regime to some degree.

When President Hafez Assad unleashed the air force on the Syrian population in 1982, he had no real worries about “outside interference.”

But with the Arab uprisings of the past year, it has been a very different story. When Arab autocrats have employed brutal tactics, these actions have immediately been turned into videos and photographs that have stirred up additional opposition, both domestically and abroad.

In Syria, more than 5,000 people have been killed since last spring, according to human rights groups and the Syrian opposition. The daily death toll has been at a level that has provoked considerable outrage inside the country and around the world. But so far, there’s been no direct intervention from a divided international community.

A widely circulated tweet from the current uprising, which refers to the restive city of Homs, makes the point: “Homs 2011 = Hama 1982, but slowly, slowly.”

In his book, Tabler writes that after the 1982 assault on Hama, “the regime also launched a sweeping campaign of arrests — not only of suspected Brotherhood members but virtually all regime opponents, including communists and Arab nationalists who hated the Brotherhood as much as the regime.”

Hama Crackdown A Warning To Others

The Hama revolt began as a sectarian challenge, with the Sunni Muslims of the Brotherhood against the minority Alawite sect that dominates the regime and the upper ranks of the military. After it was crushed, it then became a lesson to any challenger to Assad family rule.

The “Hama example” stood firm until the spring of 2011. A new generation, armed only with cameras in the early days of the revolution, gambled that images could help them succeed where the Hama uprising had failed.

“This is revolutionary karma. It’s payback,” says Tabler, who explains that this new generation has a direct link to the events in Hama years ago. (A direct link to Turkey’s Erdogan expansionist dreams into Syria and Iraq)

After the decisive crackdown back then, the Syrian economy plunged into a deep recession. A terrorized population dared no further unrest and did not speak about the events, even in whispers.

“Many Syrians were forced to stay home,” writes Tabler, “causing a decade-long increase in birthrates.” Every Arab country has a youth bulge, but the “Hama effect” put Syria in the top 20 fastest growing populations in the world, which created a population “time bomb.” The generation on the streets today, says Tabler, is a demographic wave, “the residue from that crackdown has come to haunt the country.”

After 10 months, grass-roots organizers of this uprising issued a joint statement ahead of the anniversary of the Hama massacre. For the first time in 30 years, “We hold a remembrance for this anniversary and the Hama victims inside Syria.”

The protests, scheduled for Friday around the country, are being called “Pardon, Hama … Forgive Us.” The aim is to show that a memory, even if long suppressed, is as powerful as a current image.

The Lion and the hyenas in Lebanon and Syria (1971-2005)

Hafez Assad of Syria died in 2000 of cancer. This dude is a master in holding on to power for 3 decades and enjoying the respect of his foreign enemies and the crippling fear of his citizens to any opinion shared even within the confine of the family.

He was born in a poor family and jumped at the occasion to topple half a dozen military coups in 2 decades, all of them masterminded by the USA and financed by Saudi Arabia. It is recounted that the people in Damascus knew that a coup is being prepared each time the Saudi ambassador leaves.

Hafez denied the airforce support when the regime advanced its tanks to come to the rescue of the Palestinians in Jordan who were being massacred by King Hussein in 1969. Israel just flew over the advancing Syrian tanks and made them backtrack in their advance toward Jordan.

Strong with the backing of Hussein and Saudi Arabia, Hafez did a successful military coup in 1971, put in prison all the political leaders and officers who could challenge his power, including strongmen from his Alawi sect. They rotted in prisons till they died.

In the meantime, he blockaded all the entrances of Damascus by the military so that he could have advance notice of any military attempt to a coup.

When he came to power, Suleiman Frangieh was president in Lebanon. This dude of Frangieh had massacred 40 people in a church in his hometown of Ehden in the mid 1950’s a fled to Syria. Hafez welcomed Frangieh in his home until things cooled down in Lebanon.

Consequently, Hafez was convinced that he could control Lebanon under the presidency of Frangieh who was elected by a single vote majority in 1969.

Actually, Hafez was more intent on controlling most of the potent Palestinian resistance factions in Lebanon and elsewhere in order to strengthen his political and strategic standing.

Yasser Arafat, head of the PLO, gave Hafez a lot of headaches because he wanted to be self-autonomous in dealing with Arabs head of States and the hefty funding he received from the oil-rich countries.

In Sept. of 1973, Hafez coordinated with Sadat of Egypt the counter-offensive on Israel that occupied Sinai and the Golan Heights. The Bar Lev line fell within hours in Sinai on the canal of Suez and the Syrian troops re-occupied all of the Golan in a single day.

Israel warned the US that it will use its nuclear arsenal if no immediate US air supplies are Not forthcoming.  Sadat refrained from advancing in the Sinai according to the deal, on the excuse that the Sam missiles didn’t cover the air space in the Sinai. Israel focused all its power on the Syrian front and recapture the lost occupied land.

Sadat made a peace deal with Israel in 1978 in return of the Sinai, and spoke at the Knesset. Hafez fomented a coalition against Sadat and kicked Egypt from the Arab League.

By 1981, Hafez Assad of Syria was plotting to kill several birds in one shot. The family Al Assad (The Lion) was originally Al Wa7sh (The Beast) before it was changed.

The Palestinian Arafat of the PLO and Sadat of Egypt had started to foment violent opposition by the Syrian Sunni Moslem Brotherhoods against the Alawit Assad regime.

Arafat was the staunchest enemy of Hafez in his attempt to control Lebanon, and Sadat because Hafez directly and publicly opposed Egypt peace deal with Israel.

Hafez negotiated with the Israeli to enter Lebanon and push forward to put siege and then enter Beirut until the PLO is kicked out of Lebanon.

While Israel was engaged in its nth pre-emptive war in Lebanon, Hafez put siege on Hama for 6 months and then entered this stronghold city of the Brotherhood and slaughtered 15,000. The punishment and harassment continued for another 3 decades on the Brotherhoods who opted to immigrate overseas.

After capturing Beirut, Israel reneged on the deal with Hafez and decided to pressure the deputies to elect Bashir Gemayyel (Lebanese Forces leader) as President of Lebanon. Israel went even further by pressuring Bashir to proclaim his intention for a peace treaty with Israel before the swearing ceremony.

Hafez reacted by assassinating Bashir on the eve of the ceremony and followed it by successive martyred car bombing on Israel checkpoints throughout Lebanon.

Israel finally retreated to a swath of land in south Lebanon as was the initial deal.

Sadat was also assassinated during the national military parade by Egypt Moslem Brotherhood.

Since 1983 to 2005, Syria was the main power broker in Lebanon and controlled the internal security.

The Lebanese militia warlord hyenas were on the surface at the beck of Syria dictate.

Actually, they were running the show: Nabih Berry (of the Amal militia), Walid Jumblat (the Druze warlord leader) and the late comer Rafic Hariri (Saudi designate Sunni leader).

When Hafez gets angry and reclaim the spoil, they retract momentarily and satisfy themselves with the carcases.

They were the hyenas who most of the time did the kill and resume the eating when the Lion is kept busy on other Arabic problems.

Even after the Syrian troops retreated from Lebanon in April 2005, the triumvirate (Berry, Jumblat and the Hariri clan) continued to rule and control Lebanon.

They transformed Lebanon political system into an Anomie structure where the politicians are the main business men in Lebanon and holding monopoly over every sector of the economy.

They controlled the Judicial system, the internal security, the syndicates, and almost every institution.

The Constitution was a piece of paper and the Parliament extended its tenure by voting for repeated extensions and increased allowances and privileges.

How to finish in a revolution? The writer, the revolution

The Qasabji bar in Damascus, on an unremarkable road just outside the Old City, was where Khaled Khalifa and I had our best conversations. Qasabji was a singular room shaped like a boxcar, crowded with wood tables, benches and chairs that pushed against one another and three walls

Khaled always entered first and greeted the customers sitting at tables near the door. He bent down, kissed the men, flirted with the women, and strutted to where Nabil, Qasabji’s owner, had cleaned a spot for us.

Khaled ordered either a glass of arak or the local Damascene beer, Barada, pulled a cigarette from his pack, lit it, and added to the purplish haze of smoke. I only saw Qasabji bar at night, crowded and smoke-filled, loud, dim. Khaled always faced out, better to see the men and women, but mostly the women, and when an attractive one entered he banged the table with his fist and hooted like a wolf.

Matthew Davis posted on Guernica  this November 15, 2013

The Writer and the Rebellion

“The last chapter is the most difficult to finish in a revolution, as in a novel,” writes Khaled Khalifa from war-torn Syria.

(This sentence is from the French explorer Alexis de Tocqueville who visited the USA in 1840 and described the political and social system)


Toni Milaqi, Coffee Time, acrylic on canvas, 120×90 cm, 2008. Courtesy of artist.

I met Khaled Khalifa in 2007. He was a fellow at the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, where I was working. His third novel, In Praise of Hatred had come out in Arabic the year before, and within the year would be short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, commonly known as the Arab Booker, and Khaled would be profiled by the New York Times.

Qasabji was one of two Damascene locales where Khaled had often written In Praise of Hatred. He had worked until the early hours of the morning, Nabil serving him cup after cup of coffee. It was a romantic image, the focused writer, the devoted bartender, but everything about Khaled was romantic—his outsize personality (he once orchestrated an entire club to dance while standing atop a bar), his love of women (his womanizing is notorious), his capacity to drink (he buys Smirnoff vodka in two gallon jugs, places them around his apartment, and fills them with olive oil when they’re empty). And when he talked about writing, he spoke with a refreshing earnestness:

“If you are going to be a writer, you need to be strong.”

“You cannot write a novel emotionally hot. You must be cold.”

“At one point, I decided that if I did not make it as a writer, I would kill myself.”

Khaled Khalifa was born on New Year’s Day, 1964, in a small village near Northern Aleppo. His father was an olive farmer and owned an olive oil company; his mother raised children.

Khaled was the middle child of a large family of 13 that would come to have 9 boys and 4 girls, something he once told me allowed him the chance to get lost.

Aleppo is Syria’s most populous city, a commercial hub that has historically been a meeting point of Eurasian cultures. Khaled’s family lived among this diversity.

“There are two faces of the city. One face is like a ghetto. We were living there. I remember this neighborhood because all the poor people, like Armenians, Kurdish, Turkoman—these nationalities were living in the past. These were the poor people, the farmers, and they came from the villages.” There was another newer Aleppo that was more cosmopolitan, more “Aleppine” as Khaled called it. His family lived between these two cultures.

At the time of Khaled’s birth, Syria was nearing the end of a tumultuous political period. Syria was given independence from France in 1946. By the time of Hafez al-Assad’s coup in 1970, the Syrian government had been through 4 different constitutions,  20 cabinets, the formation and disintegration of a merger with Egypt, and 4 previous military coups—three in 1949 alone.

The turbulence was in part due to the end of WWII and the collapse of the Western colonial system that had dominated the Middle East between the two world wars. It was also a result of a blossoming Arab intellectualism in the wake of this fresh independence, the buds of which were often left-leaning and communist.

Though Aleppo was historically a commercial town, not a political or intellectual center, it was not immune from these ideas, and its local cotton industry was the focal point of attempts to organize workers and put into practice what was being debated in Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, and Baghdad. Khaled’s older brothers brought these ideas into the Khalifa household.

By the time Khaled was in high school, a different political movement was developing in Syria. Though political Sunni Islam had existed in Syria since the 1930s, it grew following the November 1970 coup orchestrated by Air Force Commander Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president.

Hafez Assad was a member of the minority community of Alawites, a heterodox Shia Muslim sect which came from the northwest mountains of Syria. He was also a member of the Ba’ath Party—the secular, left-leaning political party that had been founded by a Christian Syrian(Michel Aflak) and an Iraqi in 1947.

Throughout the 1970s, Assad’s Ba’ath Party faced mounting opposition from The Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in urban centers such as Hama, Homs, and Aleppo. This opposition culminated in assassinations of government ministers and military personnel, one of the boldest attacks occurring in June 1979 at The Artillery School in Aleppo, when many young officers were killed and dozens more wounded.

Hafez Assad responded with brutal force, arresting, torturing, and murdering thousands of Syria’s citizens.

In March 1980, an entire division of the Syrian army entered Aleppo, and for more than a year, it conducted house-to-house searches for sympathizers to the Brotherhood.

It is this bloody period in Aleppo’s history, as Khaled was a teenager, that In Praise of Hatred recounts. His narrator is an unnamed teenage female whose family participates in and is victimized by the violence. Like many great novels, it uses the personal to get at the national.

What is rare about In Praise of Hatred is that it does the dual work of documenting a period decades past while also illuminating the present.

In March 2011, the Syrian people joined the “Arab Springs” in other countries in revolting against their regimes, and the response by Bashar al-Assad, Hafez’s son, who took power in 2000, has been similar to his father’s. “I was translating a section on the university in Aleppo,” Leri Price, the novel’s English translator, wrote me over email, “and how there had been purges and murders of its professors, and when I turned on the news that night the BBC were [sic] running a story about purges and murders of the staff in the University of Aleppo. You couldn’t make it up.”

Khaled spent over 13 years writing In Praise of Hatred. In one of our conversations at Qasabji, he said the novel finally fell into place when he discovered the character of the Yemeni, Abdullah, a man in his mid-forties who wants to marry one of the narrator’s aunts. That’s the character’s dramatic purpose. His intellectual purpose is to give background on the various Islamic parties and spin tales of martyrs and battles that captivate the narrator and send her to Aleppo’s religious front lines.

No one wins in Khaled’s novel.

Sectarian hatred leads to pain on all sides: families are torn apart; cities destroyed; memories seared; a country traumatized. Not surprisingly, like most art or writing critical of the regime, the novel is banned in Syria. Yet the novel is widely read there.

Khaled likes to tell the story of its launch in Damascus, an event, he jokes, that drew the entire capital city. “On one side, were all my friends, and writers, and other artists. And on the other, was all the Mukhabarat,” the secret police.

In 2009, two years after I first met Khaled, I spent the summer in Damascus learning Arabic. On my second night in the country, Khaled picked me up from my hotel. Short and stout, the nexus of his body lodged in his rotund gut, his curly salt-and-pepper hair bushy on both head and chest, he engulfed me in an embrace and said, “Matt, Matt, welcome to Damascus, my friend, welcome to my paradise.”

His red Peugeot had a large scrape and dent along the driver’s side door from a recent accident. Inside, empty and half-empty Gitanes Lights cigarette packs littered the floor, and there was so much white ash on the dash, the seats, and the consul, it looked like it had snowed inside the vehicle. We turned out of the parking lot and found our way to congested Al-Thawra Street.

We drove to a store and bought chicken, vegetables and hummus and then drove to his apartment. Khaled lived up a mountain and across from a mosque. I spent several evenings at this apartment, usually for dinner as a prelude to Qasabji or his favorite club, Mar Mar.

There were two bedrooms (one for sleeping and fucking and the other for writing); a large living room with a television, usually tuned to Al Jazeera; a balcony with a view of the lights of Damascus; and a sizable kitchen.

Khaled’s money came from writing television scripts. He was quite good at it and was paid handsomely, and sometimes, when I was at his home, I heard him arguing with producers or directors over money.

His first love was poetry.

Khaled began writing in childhood, publishing poems as early as the fifth grade. At university in Aleppo, he discovered fiction, and by his second year, he was writing his first novel. He tore it up.

“You tore it up?” I asked during one of our conversations at Qasabji.

“Yes, because I felt it was not my voice. I took the voices of other Arab writers. It was very important for me because I tore it up after two years of work. I wrote for two years, very important years for me. All my time was for reading and for writing and for sex and for hasheesh. And for discovering books and the city and the country. I discovered everything.”

Khaled studied law in college, though he rarely attended class. He claims he was able to graduate by cramming for college exams 50 days before they were given. When he graduated, he did his customary two years of military service required of every Syrian male and then moved to Damascus.

He and his friends established a literary magazine called ‘Alif (the first letter of the Arabic alphabet) in order to create a new, modern Arabic literature. He wrote a novel, the first one of his to be published. “I left poetry. Good-bye poetry forever,” he said.

The novel’s publication ushered in the most turbulent period of Khaled’s life. He moved in with his parents to avoid being homeless. They hounded him to get a job as a policeman or judge, especially his mother, who worried not only about his financial situation but about confrontations with the government if he pursued his dream of becoming a writer.

He told me he was very sad at this point, because he knew novels take a long time to write, and that any other work would take him away from his fiction. He lived in Aleppo off-and-on for five years.

Eventually, because of the strain with his family, he moved back to Damascus. He took money from friends for one year and wrote. He began writing for television, and when he sold his first script, “it was a very very very very big moment for me.” He paid his friends back.

His mother couldn’t believe that he had been paid that much money for writing. His twenties were over and his thirties about to begin. It was 1993. He had just penned the first chapter of In Praise of Hatred and published it in his magazine ‘Alif. “But I felt it was not good. I wrote 90 pages and tore it up and started again. When I wrote the next 20 pages, I said ‘Yes, this is my novel.’”

Thirteen years later it was done: a novel born of an idea when he was depressed and broke and unemployed inside his parents house in Aleppo—of memories from his time as a teenager whose city was at war. The novel and its writer have made an important impression in Syria, especially among its young.

I met several twenty-something Syrians working in the international community who were effusive in their praise; a young filmmaker, Bassel Shahade, once pulled me aside with a smile to say Khaled approved of his film idea; and during an evening when Khaled and I were out to dinner with a young musician and writer, a waiter asked if I knew who I was eating with.

“That’s Khaled Khalifa,” I said.

“No,” he protested. “That’s a god.”

In the early morning hours of September 16, 2010, I arrived in Damascus for the second time. Syria was becoming the place for foreigners to study Arabic. The country was cheap and fun and its Arabic dialect was often thought the language’s most beautiful. There was a sense that after 4 decades of secrecy and closure, a curtain was being drawn open for Syria’s Great Reveal.

An influx of foreigners rented apartments or Arab homes in the Old City, creating an army of backpackers on the cobblestone streets where once Romans and Crusaders had walked. In more formal, geopolitical ways, Syria was receiving a second look. Once lumped in with North Korea, Iraq, and Iran as part of Bush’s Axis of Evil, the Obama Administration placed the country close to the center of its Middle East policy. The idea was to further isolate Iran by making inroads in Damascus.

President Obama nominated an Ambassador to Syria for the first time since 2005, the experienced Arabist Robert Ford. Even the mainstream media showed a renewed interest in Syria beyond terrorism and international conflict. National Geographic featured a story about a new Syria opening up to the world; Vogue published a controversial hagiography about Asma Assad, Assad’s wife; and the Times ran a series of profiles of Syrian artists and intellectuals.

It was this last topic that had brought me back to Damascus. My first summer there, largely because of Khaled, I had met dozens of artists, writers, and filmmakers who had left Syria because of censorship or oppression or opportunity but were returning to a burgeoning creative scene. It was part of Syria not widely known in the West, and I wanted to write about it as a means to explore Syria’s history, politics, and culture.

A Fulbright Fellowship gave me 9 months to do so, and before I left for Syria, I had formulated a rough arc of my nine months in country. Because of the pervasiveness of Syria’s Mukhabarat, I decided to delay contact with people or issues that could potential threaten the regime. No mention of politics unless they arose in context. No meetings with public dissidents. No interviews with political or religious activists.

I would spent the first 8 months meeting artists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians, asking them about their lives and creative work, getting a feel for the dynamic in Syria’s capital city, and then, with a month left, ask tougher questions that could potentially lead to trouble. The rationale was simple. It behooved both my own personal safety and those of my subjects to avoid complicated, political issues.

So in September and October, as I settled into a spacious apartment with a gorgeous, panoramic view of Damascus, a city that, legend has it, Muhammad did not want to enter for fear you only enter paradise once, I spent time with artists whose work was benign: a group of young artists experimenting with animation and video art who wanted to start a comic book series; a musician and singer in the Damascus Higher Choir who invited me to the group dress rehearsal for Carmina Burana at the redolent Damascus Opera House; and Bassel Shahade, the young filmmaker making a short film about a poet whose heart literally broke from failed love.

And, of course, there were my conversations with Khaled at Qasabji.

Khaled’s control of English was better than my control of Arabic, so it was the former that we spoke. We understood each other well, but if there were times when I wished language wasn’t a barrier, it was when we spoke about the Mukhabarat, the secret police.

In 2009, a couple days after I arrived, when Khaled’s English and my Arabic were at their worst, we had dinner at an outdoor café. We were eating chicken schawarma and drinking a kind of yogurt, sitting on plastic chairs, and a wedding party drove by with horns honking.

“Ah, just get to the fucking,” Khaled shouted, and then he hit my leg in cahoots.

This was at the peak of Khaled’s popularity in Damascus, the same summer when the waiter asked if I knew I was sitting with a god. Totalitarian regimes allow godliness in singular form, and I asked Khaled whether he had ever had contact with the government. His answer was choppy, and I’m not confident in its veracity, though it rings true. He said that when he began winning awards for In Praise of Hatred, he was asked to meet with one of Bashar Assad’s close advisers. The adviser offered Khaled whatever he wanted—a new car, a new home, money—if he would speak positively of the regime. He declined the offer.

A year later at Qasabji, amidst the cigarette smoke and conversation, Khaled lamented to me the lack of development in Syria’s literary culture. He said many writers live abroad and that one of the reasons was the censors. But, he said, visual art thrives here, in part because Bashar likes and doesn’t really understand it. He pointed to the wall, where an abstract painting hung over the table, and pretended to be the Syrian President. “Yes, I think this is just fine,” he mocked.

He told me that a writer’s life was no different than any Syrian’s life—they all faced dictatorship and censors. A fruit vendor was as restricted as an artist.

Maybe it’s because of the recognition he has received, the acclaim that started in the Middle East, spread to Europe, and is poised to proliferate in Britain and the United States, but Khaled never seemed bitter when he talked about the struggles of being an artist or writer in Assad’s Syria.

At our first dinner together in 2010, he regaled me with stories of his summer, which he had spent in Europe with an “important man’s wife,” answering questions from European journalists. He said they all wanted to know what it was like to write under a dictatorship, about what the censors were like, and what that means for him as a writer. He waved his hand.

After 3 years, he was tired of answering such questions. He told me that a writer’s life was no different than any Syrian’s life—they all faced dictatorship and censors. A fruit vendor was as restricted as an artist. Instead, he was eager to talk about the new novel he was working on. He held up his two pudgy index fingers and placed them parallel on a horizontal plain. “It is about the Baath Party and the Syrian people,” he said, a smile creasing his face. “And how they never meet.” He moved his fingers in a straight line, always parallel.

The last time I saw Khaled in Syria was, of course, at Qasabji. It was October 9, 2010, and he was preparing to leave for a one-month writing residency in Hong Kong. He hoped to work on the new novel, which he was tentatively calling The Parallel Life. We spoke about our plans for the winter when he returned—how he was going to bring me to the mountains, to a home he was building, so we could write our novels in peace. How we were going to invite our Egyptian friend Hamdy and our Mongolian friend Ayur, both writers we knew from Iowa.

A few weeks later, in early November, I was sitting inside the University of Damascus campus. The previous day, a group of Fulbright Fellows had gathered at the university to fill out forms for Iqama, or residency. The application took all day, and we had returned to receive our passports with our Iqamas stamped inside. Everyone’s passport was ready except for mine and a friend’s. We were told to walk to the passport immigration police station close by and answer more questions.

It became clear early on, when the officers asked us how many states were in the United States and what was the last state admitted to the union, that this wasn’t a routine clarification of answers. It became more apparent when we were escorted out of the police station and asked to get into an unmarked white van.

We spent part of the afternoon in jail for reasons we did not know. We were interrogated on three separate occasions, and were offered coffee, tea, and chocolate in a lieutenant’s office while watching American action movies. We waited in this office until evening, when we were told to leave the country. There was no explanation given, only a stamp in our passport that said: “You are welcome to leave Syria in 48 hours.”

Before we left the station, a line of generals shook our hands and said: “Ahlan, wasalan,” Welcome. The next night, we traveled to the airport for a scheduled flight to Amman. A hawk-nosed border guard typed in our passport numbers and became confused. He visited his superiors, spoke with our Syrian handler. We were interrogated for a fourth time. Finally allowed to leave, our handler gave us our passports with a warning.

“I shouldn’t tell you this,” he whispered. “But on their computers you are labeled as national security risks.”

Our deportation instigated three weeks of diplomatic wrangling between the U.S. and Syria and between different agencies in the U.S. government. At one point, John Kerry spoke with Bashar al-Assad about us, and Bashar said there had been a mistake and that we could return. The culmination of all this was a choice between Syria and Jordan; the caveat was that if I chose Syria and was detained or deported again, I would lose my fellowship.

I wanted badly to return to Damascus, but by Thanksgiving, I had chosen Jordan. Three weeks later, Muhammad al Bouazizi self-immolated in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, which sparked the Tunisian Revolution, which sparked The Arab Spring, which I experienced from Jordan’s sleepy capital of Am

When revolution spread to Egypt, Khaled, back in Damascus, posted to Facebook: “If we succeed in Egypt, we will win every where.” Protests in Syria began tepidly, as if waiting for results in other countries.

On January 26, a man self-immolated in the fashion of Muhammad al-Bouazizi.

A week later, A Day of Rage planned for February 3 netted very few participants. Yet by March 15, following the detention, torture, and murder of teenagers who had scrawled anti-regime graffiti in the Southern Syrian town of Daraa, a town abutting the Jordanian border, a more cohesive protest movement coalesced.

Protests were now taking place in cities across the country, with Daraa at its center. I followed Khaled’s response on Facebook.

March 18: Who can stop this raging sea of waves?

March 23 There is no third road ahead of us. We either live with dignity or die with dignity.

March 27: How alone we are in this world. Even the soil and the skies are against us.

March 27: If emergency law disappears, I will really quit smoking.

Snipers on top of buildings wantonly killed protesters in Daraa, Homs, and Baniyas. Reports emerged of torture, rape, mutilation. A singer’s vocal chords were yanked out of his throat. A cartoonist’s hands broken and smashed. Refugees poured out of Syria to the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.

April 30: Those who inside wish to wake up and not see the name Daraa on the map, I tell you look inside for a second and you will discover that the beast that lives inside you will eat you and Daraa will remain the queen of cities.

May 3: Can someone explain to me how an artist, all kinds of artists, and a writer, all kinds of writing, and at the same time, the siege of Daraa? I swear I still don’t understand it.

In late July 2011, I returned to the U.S. I spent a night with my family in Chicago and then drove to Iowa City, where Khaled was teaching a writing course to Arab teenagers. He had told me to find him at Java House, a coffee shop on Washington Street full of young writers and burgeoning scholars, and when I walked in, Khaled was ensconced at a wood table, getting news on the revolution out through Facebook.

Khaled hugged me and we left to go outside so he could smoke. We talked about my deportation, the revolution, the regime, and Syria’s future. The revolution had only been on for several months, and successes in Tunisia and Egypt had given hope across the region and in Syria that other regimes would soon collapse. Khaled was ebullient.

We covered many topics. He said that he hadn’t been restricted at all in his movements, that he wasn’t directly working for the revolution though he was broadcasting it, that the regime will fall and those in charge will be tried as criminals, and that when the regime fell, there would be blood for about a couple of months before things subsided.

That evening, we went to George’s, Iowa City’s Qasabji: a dim, narrow bar of perpetual darkness. We met friends who still lived in town and drank and talked late into the night. “I think now, in Syria, we have a very new idea,” Khaled told me. “Now I’m writing my new novel. I have been writing for four years. But now, I will rewrite it, because I feel it is old writing. We have a new time, and new ideas, not just for writing but for the people too. Now we can understand our people. We are talking about this with young writers. What will be the future, I ask. You must be better. Because after the revolution you have new ideas about writing and about all art. We will have new ideas.”

I drove Khaled to DeKalb, Illinois the next morning, where a Syrian musician friend of his lived. The two men hugged and joked and watched Al Jazeera. They went to his back deck for a cigarette, and the friend told Khaled he shouldn’t return to Syria, that it was too dangerous. Khaled protested and said he must be there at this time, that he couldn’t leave now, that he knew how to keep safe. When he stood up, his pants were soaked. He had unknowingly sat on a chair with a large puddle. He smiled at me through his stubble.

Syria was disintegrating.

In mid-August 2011, as Khaled returned to his country, President Obama called for Assad to go. In mid-November, Jordan’s King Abdullah became the first Arab leader to ask for Assad’s removal. The killing didn’t stop. In an interview with Barbara Walters that aired December 7, Assad said a leader who kills his own people is crazy. Two weeks later, a two-day military campaign began in the Jabal al-Zawiyah area in Idlib, killing at least 200 people. The Arab League called for Assad to step down on January 22, 2012 amidst shellings and bombings of cities like Homs and Hama. On February 4, China and Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution on the violence.

January 18: Sometimes silence is a tank

January 19: The last chapter is the most difficult chapter to finish in a revolution, as in a novel

February 6: Khaled sent a letter to friends around the world that began: My friends, writers and journalists from all over the world, in China and Russia, I would like to inform you that my people are being subjected to a genocide.

On the same day Khaled posted his letter to Facebook, the US Embassy in Damascus shuttered its doors. More than a month later, the UN and Arab League supported the Kofi Annan proposal to end the violence.

On March 31, the Assad regime claimed victory over the opposition.

On April 12, a UN-backed ceasefire began. On April 25, many children were among the 69 killed during shelling of Hama. On May 3, an 18-year-old student at The University of Aleppo, Khaled’s university, was tossed out of a five-story window for protesting the Assad regime.

On May 25, over 92 people, thirty of whom were children, were massacred in the Sunni city of Houla.

On May 26, in a funeral for a friend who was shot in the head during a peaceful protest, Khaled Khalifa was beaten by security forces. His left arm was broken.

On May 28, Bassel Shahade, the young filmmaker whose face had turned into a smile when Khaled approved of his project, who had left a Fulbright Fellowship at Syracuse to train activists how to shoot video, was killed by shrapnel in Homs.

May 29: Who doesn’t know our martyr Bassel Shahade, I tell you he’s a kid who knows only the rays of light. Bassel, you broke our hearts.

June 1: Bombings, bombings and bombings now

June 3: Unbelievable bombings and heavy gunfire

July 20, 2012 in a Facebook message to me: Hi Matt, until now I am safe, but under bombing and fear. Don’t worry.

Perhaps because of its premeditation, it is the death of the 18-year-old tossed from the fifth floor of Aleppo University that sticks with me. Its only solace is that somewhere in the city of merchants on the Old Silk Road, there is another Khaled Khalifa taking note.

“I cannot say more in these difficult moments,” Khaled wrote in his letter to writers and journalists across the world, “but I hope you will take action in solidarity with my people, through whatever means you deem appropriate. I know that writing stands helpless and naked in front of the Russian guns, tanks and missiles bombing cities and civilians, but I have no wish for your silence to be an accomplice of the killings as well.”–Khaled Khalifa, Damascus

In 2012, In Praise of Hatred was translated into English and published in London by Doubleday. The ending had changed. In the Arabic original, the unnamed narrator leaves Syria and joins her uncle in London. In the English translation, the novel ends with the narrator discharged from a lengthy prison sentence, presumably to remain in Aleppo. Khaled was furious with the change, but, he told me, he was in Damascus, so what could he do.

Ever since the war began in January 2011, I had little doubt that Khaled Khalifa would remain in Syria, in Damascus, his paradise, to help usher in the new ideas he spoke passionately about in Iowa City.

More than two years on, however, I wonder whether this ending will change, too. Khaled’s health is failing; he is depressed; he has been barred from leaving the country. I get none of this from him, only those close to him. From him, I get positive emails, an optimism as much at Khaled’s core as his rotund gut and passion for writing.

Khaled’s fourth novel was recently published in Cairo. I’ve also heard that Qasabji is still open, Nabil still serving arak and beer, albeit at a higher price.

G

Matthew Davis is the author of When Things Get Dark: A Mongolian Winter’s Tale, parts of which won awards from The Atlantic and The Best American Travel Writing series. He was a Fulbright Fellow to Syria and Jordan in 2010-2011 and is currently a Tom and Mary Gallagher Fellow at The Black Mountain Institute at UNLV.

The Druze of Lebanon and Syria: Esoteric sect?

The Unitarian sect, the “Muwwahhidoun” (among themselves and excluding the Ignorant Juohhal)

The Druze religious sect constitutes one of the most extravagant of sects. The adepts, persecuted by the majority of Moslems, began to keep their distance from Islam to the point of having nothing much that links it to Islam.

The Druzes took refuge in the center of Mount Lebanon and in the surrounding high plateau in south of the Bekaa Valley, in Hasbaya and Rashaya, and in the Houran plateau in adjacent Syria and the Golan Heights.

The Druze adepts formed a distinct community and counted about 30,000 in 1860 when the mass massacres between the Druze and Maronite spread into Syria and Damascus and harvested thousands of civilians.

This peculiar religion appeared around the year 1,000, during the reign of the Fatimid Caliph Al Hakem (985-1018) in Egypt. (Read Note 2)

The Fatimid Caliph Al Hakem (985-1018) was a bizarre and complex person. He assassinated his tutors, gave order to kill all the prisoners in Cairo, and organized bloody combats as the night fell.

He drowned all his favorite women and his spouses in the Nile River, and ordered women never to leave their homes.

El Hakeem forbade eating the main food Mloukhia and many other ingredients, prohibited fishing and to sell fish with no scale…

He was a grand persecutor of Christians and burned their churches in Egypt and Syria…

El Hakem was claimed to have disappeared in 1021, to return at the End of Time.

This Caliph is believed to be God incarnate on earth by the Druze, and he is to be the last incarnate God.

The real founder of the Druze is Hamzeh, of Persian origin who settled in Cairo and was one of the closest to the caliph. Somehow he managed to be spared assassination by el Hakem.

Hamzeh began proselytizing in 1018 and proclaimed the divinity of his master el Hakem. Hamzeh dispatched his emissary Darazy to preach in Lebanon, in the regions of Hasbaya and Rashayya, close to the current Syrian borders with the Golan Heights.

Darazy ended up proclaiming to be divine and was assassinated, but the adepts had taken the name of Druze.

Hamzeh wrote 111 letters called “The Wise Letters”, which constitute the saint book for the Druze.

One of the letters attacked all the prophets and lambasted Prophet Mohammad as the calf, the devil, the bastard and the immature

The first dogmas is Metempsychosis, the soul is reincarnated into another mankind body  in order to resume its purification… This process continues until the Coming of Al Hakem.

The second main dogma is to rally the most powerful empire dominating the region and the most dominant of religion.

Since the dogma is of a high level rank that even the initiates have difficulty understanding, the Druze adepts must hide the mysteries, refrain from discussing the religion, and externally profess the dominant religion at the time...”. This attitude is referred to by “Takiyya

Actually, the Druze behavior was to adhere to the foreign missionaries religion who represented the most powerful nation at any period, studies in their schools and worked for them…

At the time, Islam was the dominant religion and they claimed to be Moslem.  The domination of Islam lasted too long in the region to be able to shift allegiance to another major religion.

As power shifts, the Druze shift allegiance. (Read Note 3)

A third dogma is to practice “Revenge” as a sacred responsibility against any one who kills a Druze.  The revenge should be dealt in a surprise manner, after a long time has elapsed to the killing, so as not to divulge the main perpetrator and why the target was killed…

The non Druze are called the Ignorant (as is the case in every religion), and the highest in the clergy are called the Wise (Okkal).

The Sheikh Akal is but the symbolic highest clergy or the main speaker in the name  of the sect: The real power resides in the highest group located in the saint place in Bayyada (the Hasbaya region). This assembly is the power who decides politically, militarily, socially, and religiously for the Druze… (Read Note 4)

Note 1: From the book “Memoirs of Syria: French expedition of 1860 to Lebanon and Damascus“, written by a French diplomat who attended all the negotiations to end the series of secular massacres between the Maronites and the Druzes

The first western published book on the Druze sect (1838) was by Sylvester de Sacy  in “Exhibit of the Druze religion”. The book is objective in the description and analysis, but lack the Orient comprehension of the deeper reality of this religion.

Sylvester de Sacy accompanied Bonaparte in his Egyptian campaign and stayed in Egypt for 40 years. 

One of the more recent books on the Druze sect was published in Paris in 1980 by 3 anonymous (non-western) authors and titled “Between the Logos (reason) and the Prophet” (Bayn al 3akl wa al nabi)

Note 2: Mind you that it was about this period that Byzantine Empire in Constantinople started another round of major persecution of the “heretic” Christian sects that opted to pay allegiance to the Pope of Rome. Among those persecuted Christian sects was the Maronite sect which fled and took refuge in the northern parts of the mountainous Mount Lebanon.

The Melkite (Royalist) Christian sect, later called the Orthodox Church, was the main persecutor of the Maronites and not any Moslem sect.

It is at the turn of this first millennial that many mysterious and underground religious sects were created and prospered. The Alawit sect spread at this period too.

The people were fearful and apprehensive of the coming calamities, but the extreme zealot people took advantage of people emotional weaknesses

Note 3: When the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser was dominating the politics of the Arabic World, the Druze sided with Nasser.

In 1975-76, the Druze, represented by the leader Kamal Jumblat, sided with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that dominated Lebanon and headed by Yasser Arafat.

In 1976-82, the Druze, headed by the son Walid Jumblat, sided with the Pro-Syrian political factions

In 1982, the Druze sided with the invading Israeli troops and facilitated their advances and refused to confront them…

Note 4: The Takkiya is performed not just on the non-Druze, but this habit applies on their political leaders. For example, the Okkal Assembly were very displeased with Kamal Jumblat alliances with the PLO and communist Soviet Union. They gave Syria dictator Hafez Assad the green light to assassinate Kamal in 1978.

Note 5: The son Walid Jumblat got the message loud and clear and never ceased to obey the Okkal Assembly orders and decisions. Every season, Walid changes his position to coincide with the perceived strength of local and foreign powers. Walid keeps apologizing for his frequent “momentary lapses in judgments“.  But Walid doesn’t care, as long as the Druze believe that he is exercising wise intelligence.

What’s going on in Syria? Any insider pieces of intelligence? Part two

That may have been the longest and most terrifying week for the Syrian president Bashar Assad.  External interventions could not scare the Syrian regime, but vast internal unrest is another different story to consider very seriously.

For example, since 2005, the French president Jacques Chirac had a priority and a fixation to dismantle the one-party rule in Syria, especially the Assad oligarchy that ruled Syria since 1971.

Chirac blamed Syria for the assassination of ex-prime Minister Rafic Hariri and did his best to condemn Syria via the International Court on Lebanon.

US President Bush Jr. also wanted this occurrence as Syria initially refused to support the unilateral US invasion of Iraq in 2003, until Bush discovered that he badly needs the cooperation of Syria with the open vast borders with Iraq.

France Sarkozy and Obama  are no longer interested in exercising any seriuos pressures on Syria: Syria is entirely off the hook from the International Court on Lebanon.

Obviously, Israel relied on the Assad family and did its best convincing rhetorics for that clan to remain in power:  The Israeli occupied Golan Heights were the most secure and safest place on earth since 1973.

Information on the two-week long uprising and demonstrations in several Syrian cities and the Capital Damascus are controversial and not covered in details.  There are intended blackout by most media channels, western, and Arab States for disseminating useful intelligent pieces.

A few cable news mention over 100 killed, particularly in the southern city of Daraa, on the borders with Jordan.  The Syrian media displayed arms stocked in the Daraa mosque and denunciation of violent infiltrated elements.

The Syrian dictatorial regime responded with promises of vast reforms from instant increase in wages, the release of  political prisoners, laws on forming political parties to be reviewed, and more freedom of expressions… The Syrian Baath party faction is to meet today for critical analysis of the situations and considering alternative reforms.

Bashar Assad is a young dictator and serious about development reforms, as all young dictators think.  For example, Qadhafi, Abdel Nasser, Abdallah Saleh of Yemen…were very promising figures of their period.

It would be tough for Bashar to reconsider giving away the oligarchic interests of the Assad extended family.

Most probably, the Syrian people want a moratorium on dictators, oligarchy, and absolute monarchies.  Sort of it is okay, a decade later, for these forms of governance to return to the front scene?

For the time being, most people are exhausted with decades of dictatorial regimes and want some fresh air to blowing away layers of technocrats that were trained to be amoral and unethical by serving the enduring power-to-be.

The steadfast and determined mass protests are the result of the population knowing full well the vengeful tribal mentality of their rulers:  The masses know that if they relent before the entire structure is gone and that any reprieve to the oligarchic system means the reorganization and launching of mass arrests, summarily executions, humiliation tactics, and an open climate of terror.

The Determination of the masses is the result of innate survival process:  Either they win or they are massacred.

Do you think that the Ben Ali and Mubarak would have learned the lesson of respecting their people desires and wants? In Yemen, the people are not relinquishing their marches since the uprising started a month ago:  They know the reactions of the kinds of Abdullah Salef if he is given a breathing space.  Anyone doubt that Qadhafi would not have wiped out a third of the Libyan population if the UN postponed indefinitely any resolution for imposing a “No fly zone”?

You have an excellent demonstration of what’s happening in Bahrain:  The King has arrested all the leaders of the uprising, is readying to hire one thousand Pakistani soldiers, cut diplomatic relations with Iran and Lebanon on the basis that Hezbollah denounced the strong arm tactics of this monarchy, and prohibited the Lebanese immigrants, legally working in Bahrain, from returning home and considering every Lebanese as enemy to their stupid monarchy, and on… Do not be surprised when you hear news of blatant atrocities and crimes against humanity are perpetrated openly in Bahrain.

In 1980, Hafez Assad encircled the city of Hama with his special troops, entered the city, and never ever left the city.

There were no serious coverage of what happened.  Every now and then, when the US is unhappy with the regime of Hafez, innuendos would circulate that Assad slaughtered 20,000 Syrians living in Hama.  It is an unbelievable number to take seriously:  Just disposing of the bodies of a number of that magnitude in a short time would overthrow any regime, even Hitler and Stalin.

In any case, many Sunni Moslems in Hama, expressing dislike for the Alawi regime, disappeared.  No international court or any indictment by the UN ever materialized.  Nobody know, even today, the number of casualties:  Not the exact number but the scale; is it in the dozen, hundreds, or thousands…?

On Friday of last week, mass upheavals were spreading in Syria; from the city of Daraa by the borders with Jordan, to Banyas, Tartous, Homs, and way to the north in the Kurdish region.  Last week, there were a couple of shy demonstrations localized in Damascus demanding the liberation of political prisoners.  Four demonstrators were killed in Daraa.

President Bashar Assad sent two official delegates to pay condolence to the bereaved families of the dead citizens.  As they finished their visit, the two delegates had three more casualties on hand.

The Syrian government blamed “infiltrators” disguised in internal security outfit to ordering live ammunition shooting on peaceful marchers.  The infiltrators also burned the headquarter of the one-party Baath regime and the court of justice in the city.  You have to admit that the “infiltrators” are awfully skilled:  The government security specialists have proven to be no match to infiltrators.

The President Bashar Assad had decreed last week the liberation of most prisoners, political and non political, those over 70 years and the terminally sick…Maybe it was just a promise?  As all promises that the people have been hearing for decades?

I guess Bashar forgot to mention that the political system needed to be reformed and that the Assad regime, father to son, since 1971, has to make rooms for democratic succession and away from a “one-party” rule.

Syria has grown to 20 million in population.  Amid the turmoil in the Middle-East, Syria of the Assad socialist regime managed to bring sort of stability and security; it maintained a steady currency and invested in decent infrastructure and schooling for all.  Invariably, oligarchic regimes ends up getting involved in widespread corruptions and considering the State Treasury as family holdings.

Bashar succeeded to his father in 2000.  Israel unilaterally retreated from south Lebanon in 2000, quickly and never turning back to facing the deadly blows of the Lebanese resistance forces.  Instead of announcing a timetable for the retreat of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the new Syrian President got immersed resolving side problems and affirming his power, until Hariri was assassinated in 2005 and the Syrian troops felt it wise to retreat from all Lebanon.

The Assad regime is based on the minority Alawi sect, a kind of Shia sect, and most of the sensitive positions in the army and internal security system are in the hands of the extended family members.  The Syria Baath party made alliance with a few political parties for the Parliament, but there is a deep sense that the structure of this regime is fundamentally an oligarchic system.

The Syrian regime masterfully kept diplomatic dialogue with the US  Administrations and reached many tacit agreements in cooperating with the US in Iraq, even though Syria is included in the “black list” as a “rogue State” not entirely supporting the US policies.

Syria maintained a strong alliance with Iran for three decades and currently extended firm alliance with Turkey.  The regimes of Mubarak of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan kept the squeeze on Syria by orders from the USA for two decades.  Syria had close ties with Libya of Qadhafi and is still supporting Qadhafi with jet pilots, until the “No Fly Zone” was established.

Two days ago, Syria announced its support to the expeditionary Saudi forces in Bahrain on the premises that these forces were legitimate since they were demanded by the King of Bahrain!  In the meanwhile, Iran vehemently denounced these incursions into Bahrain and is against Qadhafi.  Thus, Syria flaunted Iran’s policies in the region twice in less than two days.  Syria is wooing the alliance of Egypt and Saudi Arabia in order to ward off the current mass Arab uprising everywhere.  Maybe Syria made a hasty move away from Iran before securing its internal stability with new political reforms.

It is obvious that no foreign alliances can withstand the new wrath of the people for everlasting regimes of dictators, one-party regimes, and absolute monarchies.

Lebanon youth have been demonstrating for a secular political structure.

The monarchy in Morocco is witnessing mass upheavals in 40 cities.

Time for outraged is not going to subside any time soon.

Part 1.  Biography of a period (Lebanon, 1989-2009): President Emile Lahoud

Before 1989

The mother of President Emile Lahoud is from Armenia and his wife is Armenian and he speaks Armenian. In 1954, Emile miraculously recovered from meningitis while studying in London and thus decided to enjoy life to the hilt.  He spent his adolescent years riding a convertible white jaguar; he had a chalet on the beach and partied all night long. Lahoud married Andree Amadony in 1967.

Emile Lahoud would repeat this anecdote, countless times, for whoever cares to listen:  When a schoolboy, he got into a fight and had his regulation school overcoat ripped. His father, General Jamil Lahoud, asked him “Is your conscious at peace?” The reply was affirmative and the father said “Don’t you worry then; you will have another coat made”

Emile Lahoud used to never wear any coat or jacket during the coldest seasons until a friend was once shocked to see him swimming and asked him “Have you got hit on your head as a kid?”  Since then, Lahoud wears a simple black leather jacket in winter time, just to save appearances of normalcy.

Lahoud’s breakfast is a piece of banana and a cone of ice cream for lunch.  The main eating session is dinner.  Lahoud records on a tape the topics that he wants to approach in a discussion or matters to follow up on.

General Emile Lahoud, Army Chief

Emile Lahoud ascended the military ranks normally and was the first Chief of the army who came from the ridiculously tiny navy. He was appointed Chief in November 1989 after General Michel Aoun was forced into exile to France.

General Lahoud had the task to re-unite the dismantled army after over 15 years of civil war; he combined the regiments so that they represent all the Lebanese sects and ordered the regiments to relocate every 9 months to different parts of Lebanon so that every soldier knows his country.  He negotiated the best deals for arms, medicine, and insurance.

The General refused political deals with President Hrawy and Rafic Hariri PM for transferring officers and followed the strict military procedures.  Any high officer who refused to obey orders for the re-organization of the army was dismissed and Syria never tried to pressure Lahoud to rescinding his orders.  The billionaire Rafic Hariri used to offer the army cash money every month but General Lahoud refused saying “The State is responsible for the budget of the army” so that he can exercise his functions without undue political pressures.

There was an international decision to contain the Islamic resistance in south Lebanon and General Lahoud refused to confront the army with the Lebanese resistance fighting the Israeli occupiers.  President Hafez Assad of Syria decided to meet Lahoud for the first time.  General Lahoud told Hafez Assad “I am re-building the army to resist Israel and my conscience refuses to fight those who are fighting Israeli occupation”

Since that meeting the political pressures on Lahoud faded away and he could focus on the re-organization of the army and freeing the resistance from political pressures and its freedom of movement in areas not in the army control.  When Israel bombed Lebanon for 7 days in 1993, General Lahoud ordered to return fire and Israel stopped its shelling.

Walid Jumblat, leader of the Druze sect in the district of Shouf, offered General Lahoud a bullet proof car on account that their fathers were close friends.  Lahoud returned the car a few months later when he realized that Jumblat is in the habit of blackmailing for political gains.

The government had ordered the army to recuperate all public facilities and Lahoud recaptured the palaces of Al Amine in Beit El Dine to the growing angst of Jumblat.  Another time General Lahoud sent an army support to accompany the Druze Sheikh Akl Bahjat Ghaith to his home because Jumblatt forbade the Sheikh from entering his hometown.

Mr. President of the Republic

Lahoud was elected President of the Republic by the majority of 118 out of 128 deputy votes after revising an item in the Taef Constitution.  Item 49 in the Constitution denied candidacy to any a high ranked employee before resigning his post for a period. General Lahoud was elected President on October 15, 1998 and his first public oath in the Parliament said: “The President of the Republic is the only official to swear allegiance to the nation and to obey the law.  Thus, since I will be under the Law I expect everyone else to emulate my subordination to the Laws of the Land”

President Lahoud had a program of fighting corruption and made it clear and loud in his speech that didn’t mention the ex-President Hrawi or the ex Hariri PM in any sections of the speech.

When ex-President Hrawi urged Hafez Assad to change his choice Assad said: “The Lebanese public polls selected Emile Lahoud for President and I want him there” The Syrian President had complete confidence in the former Army Chief that he will first, resume his policy of strengthening and unifying the Lebanese army and will refrain from drawing the Lebanese army in internal infighting such as with Hezbollah and thus save the Syrian army any uncalled for problems, and second, that Lahoud will never contemplate unilateral negotiation with Israel.

Hafez Assad was not concerned with the Lahoud’s program for drastic reforms and fighting corruption.  Thus, Lahoud had to deal with a rotten political system in Lebanon that constituted an insurmountable barrier to change: the Taef Constitution robbed the President of valuable powers that were transferred basically to the Prime Minister and the cabinet combined.

Hariri had proclaimed three months ago that “I will return Prime Minister whoever is elected President to the Republic”  Hariri had returned from a long trip visiting important capitals and secured assent to be accepted as Prime Minister but only 83 out of 128 deputies selected him directly and the remaining deputies allowed the President to vote for them.

Cocky Hariri went publicly asking that another round of consultation takes place because he wanted as many representative votes as the President of 118 deputies.  Lahoud reacted by publicly accepting Hariri refusal and appointed Salim Hoss as Prime Minister with 95 deputy votes.

This tactic of Hariri backfired as he realized that Syria could easily deal with another Prime Minister.  Hariri was positioning himself for a vaster role as co-partner in the coming Middle East peace accord that he sincerely believed was almost agreed on.

It was a tradition since independence for the newly elected President of Lebanon to pay an official visit to France first of all.  Jacques Chirac was highly displeased that Lahoud did not mention France contribution to the April 1996 agreement to localize the confrontations in south Lebanon and for not consulting him on the government that excluded Rafic Hariri.  Consequently, Chirac took it personally and canceled the appointment for a formal visit to France.  Later Chirac was pressured to dissociate France interest in Lebanon from his personal animosity with Lahoud and the Francophone convention took place in Beirut in 2000.

In June 1999, assassins of the extremist Sunni movement “Osbat al Ansaar” killed four judges within Saida Court House and fled to the nearby Palestinian camp of Ain Helwi.  Lahoud understood that it was a trap to inciting the Lebanese army to start a war on the Palestinian camps; instead Lahoud focused on encircling the camp to apprehend the assassins.

As this nasty trap failed to divide the government, Israel launched destructive raids on Lebanon’s infrastructure targeting the electrical power plants and water pumps. Lahoud asked the Lebanese to contribute to a bank account in order to support the State treasury to rebuild what was demolished; (I remember that I contributed $100 while in the USA).  The Lebanese overseas contributed 50 millions dollars to that fund.

The president of the Parliament, Nabih Berri, told Lahoud “You are an excellent soldier but lack political acumen”.  Lahoud replied “If I managed to become Chief of the army and President of the Republic with lack of political acumen how do you think my path would have unfolded if I was cleverer in politics?”

In another moment Berri told the biographer:  “Lahoud plays it dumb but he is aware of all the political details and smarter in politics than most Lebanese politicians.  For example, Lahoud retains General Jamil Al Sayyed, Director of the General Security in Lebanon, in all his discussions with foreign personalities so that Al Sayyed would testify to the Syrian officials.”  Berri had no liking for the strong Shiaa man Al Sayyed.

Lahoud finally met with Rafic Hariri in the summer Palace of Beit El Dine after months of avoiding face to face encounter. Lahoud told Hariri “From the first moment, I knew that you wanted as much weight among the deputies as I obtained in my election for the presidency so that you may force on me your conditions. I kept the honest and performing high officials that you appointed and will dismiss anyone that is not up to his responsibilities.  I intended you to be my first Prime Minister but I was in no mood to be subjected to any conditions.  I know that you are spending lots of money on the media to ruin the image of this government but this not the way to behave with me.”  Two days later president Basher Assad paid Lahoud a quick visit to Lebanon and publicly supported the president and Hoss PM. To be continued

Note:  This is a biography of ex-President of the Republic of Lebanon Emile Lahoud from 1989 to 2009, written by Karim Bakradouni.  I had already reviewed “Shock and Steadfastness” (Sadmat wa Soumoud) in two posts.   I decided to re-edit the two posts in two tighter articles based on historical chronology, and further expansion.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

December 2020
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