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1) Syria came into early contact with, and later assimilated, many of the Hittites, the first Indo-European tribe in the Mesopotamia region. That contact is still visible in the Syrian character. It produced one of the most advanced civilizations ever seen in the Middle East, that of the Assyrians.

2) Syria is a country controlled by one man, Bashar al-Assad, as it was by his father Hafez before him. All significant business contracts pass though him and his entourage. Apart from that, business life is relatively open and free.

3) Syrian society is composed of a number of cohesive groups recognizing a common heritage and exhibiting great solidarity. Both linguistic and religious characteristics define these groups; religious communities within the larger population sharing a language function as separate quasi-ethnic entities, and which have in many cases developed distinctive cultural traits.

4) About forty percent of the Sunnis in Syria are urban dwellers; of those, eighty percent live in the five largest towns. The Alawis, apart from those who constitute the ruling elites in Damascus, are generally poor and live in rural areas, especially along the coast north of Lebanon. About ninety percent of the inhabitants of the Jabal al-Arab are Druze; there are also Jews and Armenians, who are largely urban traders (see Mona Yacoubian in Collelo 1988).

5) The twenty-million-strong population of Syria is ruled by the Alawite section of the population, who number 2.5 million and provide the Head of State and the leaders of the armed forces and intelligence services. The Alawites are a distinctive sect of Shia Islam with secret rituals built on ideas of reincarnation. The Sunnis represent about seventy per cent of the population, and handle most civil administration. This is a difficult balance which is maintained only through oppression and control; the Sunnis hate the Alawites. Knowing that keeps the Alawites on constant alert.

6) The Islamic Brotherhood, also Sunnis, was at war with the Alawites in Syria for most of the twentieth century. In Syria this ended with the Alawites killing people variously numbered between seven and forty thousand in the city of Hama in 1982; many hundreds of Brotherhood members were slaughtered in Syrian prisons. Al-Assad wanted to make a point, as a warning to them. The Brotherhood had killed Sadat the previous year in Egypt.

7) This is the same Brotherhood that attacked America at the beginning of the 21st century. Al-Qaeda, the remainder of fundamentalist resistance fighters in the war in Afghanistan, were their brothers in arms against Russia.

8) Unlike al-Qaeda, the Brotherhood have always had a strong intellectual streak. Osama bin Laden's teachers were members of the Brotherhood. There is a close relationship between the Islamic Brotherhood and the Wahhabites in Saudi Arabia.

9) Iran has helped the Alawites to rid Lebanon of Saudi influence. For the moment the Iranians control the south (Hezbollah) and the Syrians the remainder.

10) Now the US wants to join forces with the Islamic Brotherhood to oust Al-Assad, with the aim at the end to weaken the Shias in Iran. Most politicians of Europe play along, even France who once put the Alawites in power, without every asking what regime may come instead. In the meanwhile Al-Assad had open up for democratic election through constitutional reforms. We would then be ousting a democratic state with the help of some of the world's worst dictatorships.


1) King Abdullah I of Jordan (ruled 1921-51) has been described by others as a British bellboy who agreed with Ben Gurion to share Palestine with the Israelis. It was put to him that he would come to rule much of Syria if he supported the Israeli attack. But when the 1948 war started, the Israeli officers paid no heed to that agreement. Now, in order to rebuild some trust, Jordan has had to house many of the Palestinian refugees (1.8 million out of 4.2 million).

2) Jordan also offers a home to members of the Islamic Brotherhood - Sunni terrorists expelled from Syria and Iraq. The Shia too have a presence here, with their Islamic Action Front. All groups are waiting for a chance to strike.

3) The Hashemite Kingdom is the most reliable partner of the USA in the Middle East. When the US pulls out, this family will be the first to go into exile. Then there will probably be all-out civil war.

1) Egypt has a single-party electoral system, in which most votes get lost in the process of counting.

2) Under Nasser, Egypt was considered Communist, and the Islamic Brotherhood was supported military and financially by the USA. Unlike Morocco, this is a country with a certain tradition of secularism.

3) Now, Muslim fundamentalists are winning the hearts of the poor. If the wealth of the country wealth cannot be distributed more equally, they will revolt again. Not even the fear of ending up in the most horrible prisons in the world can deter this group. (One American official said in the aftermath of 9-11: "If you want to torture someone you send him to a Syrian prison, if you want to kill him you send him to Egypt".)

4) A Muslim fundamentalist city of some twenty million inhabitants165on the border of Europe would be a tremendous security risk. It is probably our worst nightmare with respect to the Mediterranean region. Hence we have always been willing to support a dictator and look the other way.

5) Mubarak will be replaced by other military figures. The Egyptian revolution was never won, or at any rate it has not been, so far. Those who advocate freedom are not the majority. Their long-awaited democracy may instead encounter a reverse.

6) Egypt faces much the same situation as Turkey: there is a balance between critics of the regime and the non-religious elites. If one tourist is killed, all hell breaks loose. Both parties know and respect this unwritten agreement. It is the same agreement the Turks have with the Kurds in Istanbul: "a hundred eyes for half an eye".

7) If the military abandon their hold on power, the country will drift towards Islamism. Their best hope will be some sort of moderate Islamic republic as in Turkey, but they are still far from this goal.

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