The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy
by Yassin al-Haj Saleh
Haymarket Books, Chicago 2017
This book is a necessary corrective to the dominant perception—left, right and center—that the opposition in Syria are all jihadists and dictator Bashar Assad the best bet for "stability." Long a left-wing dissident in Assad's Syria, Saleh is a veteran of the dictator's prisons. Here, he traces the origins of the Syrian revolution to agony caused by the regime's "economic liberalization" (socialist phrases aside), describes the initially unarmed opposition's popular-democratic nature, and discusses the struggle to keep the Free Syrian Army accountable to this grassroots base after it became clear a military dimension to the revolution was necessary. He makes the case that the Assad regime can be termed "fascist" even by the most rigorous definition and has been making good on its pledge to "burn the country" before ceding power. He also analyzes the emergence of "militant nihilism" in the form of ISIS and al-Qaeda (he rejects the word "terrorist" as propagandistic).
Representatives of the US-backed Kurdish-led alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces are holding talks in Damascus with the Assad regime, apparently with an eye toward regime recognition of the Kurdish autonomous zone in exchange for unity against further Turkish expansion in northern Syria. "A delegation from the Syrian Democratic Council is paying a first official visit to Damascus at the invitation of the government," the council's Arab co-chair Riad Darar said. "We are working towards a settlement for northern Syria. We hope that the discussions on the situation in the north will be positive." The SDF controls more than 27% of Syrian territory. (France24) In effect, that means this region is under the Rojava autonomous administration, which is the real political force behind the SDF. The Rojava leadership's cooperation in a Syrian carve-up deal may be the price of survival for their autonomous zone. But it would certainly vindicate the long-standing accusations of Kurdish collaboration with Assad—despite Assad's previous refusal to recognize the autonomous zone. It would also yet further heighten the risk of Kurdish-Arab ethnic war in northern Syria.
With the fall of Syria's southern province of Daraa to Assad regime forces earlier this month, only Idlib in the north remains as a last pocket of opposition control. The besieged rebel forces there are anticipating a final offensive by Assad and his Russian backers. The pro-Moscow Al Masdar News headlines that Damascus is preparing for the "mother of all battles in Idlib," with the Syrian Arab Army's elite Tiger Forces to lead the offensive. But a complicating factor is that Turkey is occupying areas of Idlib, which means an offensive there threatens international escalation. Speaking to reporters in Ankara before heading for a summit of emerging market countries in South Africa, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would speak there with Vladimir Putin about how to resolve "the issue of Idlib." (YNet)
A suicide bomber killed at least 130 people at a campaign rally in southwestern Pakistan July 13— the deadliest attack in the country since 2014. A local candidate was among the dead in Mastung town, Balochistan province. The local franchise of the Islamic State took credit for the attack. That same day, a bomb attack on a rally in the northern town of Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killed four. Three days earlier, a suicide attack on a rally in Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killed 20. The attacks come ahead of this month's general elections. Among those killed in Mastung was Balochistan provincial assembly candidate Siraj Raisani, of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). (BBC News, Dawn, EWN)
In what the New York Times somewhat hyperbolically calls a "clash," US Border Patrol vessels have over the past two weeks stopped at least 10 Canadian fishing boats near Machias Seal Island between Maine and New Brunswick. Canada has responded by beefing up its Coast Guard patrols in what is being termed a "disputed gray zone" between the two countries' territories. "There is no illegal immigration going on there," a bewildered Canadian fisherman told the Times. "It seems silly." Most observers see it as related to the current bitter trade dispute between Washington and Ottawa. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says the US Border Patrol has stopped over 20 Canadian vessels so far this year in "contested waters" in the Bay of Fundy, and "has no intention of stopping." The so-called Grey Zone consists of some 700 square kilometers of lucrative lobster waters where the Bay of Fundy meets the Gulf of Maine, although few actually live in it. Machias Seal Island is a migratory bird sanctuary maintained by the government of Canada, but is otherwise uninhabited.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador—known by his initials AMLO—will be Mexico's next president, following his victory in the July 1 election. By any measure, this is historic—it is the first time a candidate of the left has had his victory honored, after three tries. In 1988, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) almost certainly had his victory stolen by fraud. Then, in 2006, AMLO himself, then running with the PRD, claimed his victory was similalry stolen. His supporters launched a protest occupation of Mexico City's central plaza, the Zocalo, and there was talk of forming a "parallel government." Now AMLO, running with his new vehicle, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), has made it. There is a sense of a real break with Mexico's traditional political parties, The once-hegemonic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is again discredited, as narco-violence only escalated under the incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto. AMLO's old vehicle the PRD meanwhile formed an unlikely coalition with the right-wing National Action Party (PAN).
In a perfectly predictable response, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the US of fomenting the latest irruption in the wave of popular protests that has swept the country since the start of the year. While failing to explicitly name Saudi Arabia, he accused other regional powers of joining with the US to fuel dissension in Iran to "separate the nation from the system." He said: "If the US was able to overpower the Islamic system, it would not have needed to form a coalition with notorious countries of the region to create chaos, unrest and insecurity in Iran." Last week, online videos showed police firing tear-gas at protesters angered over economic austerity. Vendors in Tehran's Grand Bazaar, a traditional area of support for Iran's leadership, went on strike over the collapse of the rial on foreign exchange markets. (The New Arab) Despite not having a union, Iran's truck drivers also staged a nationwide strike for almost two weeks in late May and early June. (Al-Monitor)
As the Assad regime, backed by Russian air-strikes, opens its offensive on the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front in Daraa governorate—and towns start to fall to pro-regime forces, with thousands fleeing their homes in fear of reprisals—the Trump White House has issued a statement to the rebels, warning, "[Y]ou should not base your decisions on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention by us." This despite Washington's earlier warning to Assad and Putin that any violation of the so-called "de-escalation zones" would have "serious repercussions," including "firm and appropriate measures." (Reuters, Reuters, DW) Not surprisingly, this betrayal comes just as Trump reportedly told King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House that he is seeking a deal with Putin on terms for a withdrawal of remaining US forces from Syria. Reports indicate the deal will be on the agenda when Trump meets with Putin in Helsinki next month. (CNN)