Syria Between Two Transitions

by Hisham Melhem
published in MER203

In the recent years, Syria has inhabited the two processes of fundamental transition. The first is a transition from a statist economy to a greater liberalization or, to use a more accurate term, intifah (open-door policy). The second of these transitions is from a state of belligerency with Israel to one of coexistence with the possible eventuality of peace. Although not organically linked, the two reinforce one another. The interplay among the dynamics both have created profoundly shapes state and society in Syria, as it has the politics of the Eastern Mediterranean.

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History as Social Critique in Syrian Film

by Robert Blecher
published in MER204

Muhammad Malas’ al-Layl and Ryad Chaia’s al-Lajat

History is back in fashion in Syria. The last few years have seen a flurry of Syrian films and TV series treating historical epochs from Zenobia’s Palmyra to the French occupation (1920-1946). The latter has been especially well represented in this “return to history” (al-‘awda ila al-tarikh). In particular, two films stand out: Muhammad Malas’ al-Layl (The Night) and Ryad Chaia’s al-Lejat (referring to both the name of the region of Suwayda in which the film takes place and the black volcanic rock common to the region). Previously screened in Europe, both have appeared recently in US film festivals.

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Asad's Lost Chances

by Carsten Wieland | published April 13, 2011

On January 31, the Wall Street Journal printed words that Bashar al-Asad must wince to recall. In an interview with the newspaper, the Syrian president said that Arab rulers would need to move faster to accommodate the rising political and economic aspirations of Arab peoples. “If you didn’t see the need for reform before what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, it’s too late to do any reform,” he chided his fellow leaders. But Asad went on to assure the interviewer (and perhaps himself): “Syria is stable. Why? Because you have to be very closely linked to the beliefs of the people. This is the core issue. When there is divergence…you will have this vacuum that creates disturbances.”

Holding Syria Accountable, Though Selectively

by Chris Toensing | published September 1, 2003

With George W. Bush stubbornly insisting that the US is making “progress” in the “central phase of the war on terror” in Iraq, pro-Israel Democrats and Republicans in Congress figure it is time for phase three. Some think tankers want to train Washington’s gunsights on Iran, but next week Congress will reconsider a measure targeting Syria.

Yes, We Really Must Talk With Iran

by Charles Knight , Chris Toensing | published October 28, 2008

If American troops are ever to come home from Iraq and Iraqis are to have a decent chance at peace and prosperity, the United States must open up a new chapter in its Middle Eastern diplomacy. The Iraq Study Group in 2006 made this point when it called for “diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions.” The Bush administration has largely ignored this advice.

The diplomatic challenge before the United States and the international community is to secure non-intervention of neighboring states in Iraqi affairs and to nurture a substantial international commitment to long-term Iraqi recovery from its decades of war, sanctions and authoritarian rule. To meet this challenge, the United States will need a new policy in the broader region.

The Golan Waits for the Green Light

by Nicolas Pelham | published July 26, 2007

Since their government has not, Shoshi Anbal and a posse of her fellow Tel Aviv housewives are preparing to engage in diplomacy with Syria. On May 18, they assembled along the Israeli-Syrian frontier to applaud what at the time was Syrian President Bashar al-Asad’s latest iteration of his call for negotiations to end the 40-year standoff over the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967, and indeed the legal state of war prevailing between the two states since 1948. “Asad! Israel wants to talk,” the women chanted. And, less reverently, “Let’s visit Damascus—by car, not by tank.” 

The Mehlis Report and Lebanon’s Trouble Next Door

by Marlin Dick | published November 18, 2005

The UN-authorized investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, now well into a second phase of heightened brinkmanship between Damascus and Washington, also has Lebanon holding its collective breath.