Thursday, September 24, 2015

French Syria expert Fabrice Balanche published a very informative paper about demographics in the province of Latakia including a couple of great maps via the Washington Institute:

Latakia Is Assad's Achilles Heel by Fabrice Balanche

Extensive piece about situation of Druze in Suwaida pre Bal'us assassination

Mazen Ezzi, editor of the Beirut-based Al Modon online newspaper and author of a series about the early days of the revolution in Suwaida, provides a full length analysis about the situation of the Druze community in Syria. The Arabic version has already been published in July, so the assassination of recently emerged Druze leader sheikh Wahid al-Bal'us (Abu Fahd) is not featured. Nevertheless, Ezzi provides some  interesting points especially regarding Bal'us and his "men/sheikhs of dignity" movement, making it more plausible why the regime might have perceived him as a threat.

The Druze of Suwayda: The Embers of Dissent
by Mazen Ezzi, Al-Jumhuriya English
(...)Al-Balaous accused the Syrian regime of betraying the Druze and then he continued, talking about al-Assad, “If he cannot protect us, we do not want him. We will go to the presidential palace to topple him down.”
A few days later, a statement by the three Sheikhs was issued, excommunicating al-Balaous and his followers on the background of “repeated breaches against religion and the ethics, and religious norms.” (....)
The “Committee of Muslim Unitarian Druze Scholars”, which is under the supervision of the “House of Worship and Culture” in Suwayda Governorate issued a statement refusing the Sheikhdom’s decision against Balaous and describing it as illegitimate religiously speking. The “Committee” stated that the decisions of the Sheikhdom are “quite similar. They have a patriotic appearance but in essence, they are politically profiteering. As for the religious factor, it does not play any role their formation.” The committee declared that it will not implement the excommunication decision, and called everyone not to implement this decision because the reason that incurred this punishment is political, not religious. It aggravated the situation when it declared that the Sheikhdom is not qualified to issue an excommunication because it is “not legitimate nor elected. It does not draw its legitimacy from the sect or its creed.” (...)
Sheikh Wahid Balaous called for religious reform and a council to regulate the affairs of the sect with elected sheikhs on the basis of religious rank and without intervention from others. This call to form a religious council to run the affairs of the sect surfaced for the first time after a great section of the religious body called for it in 1995. The regime, however, continuously refused it; approval was related to a special office that answers to the Presidency. The sect council takes some authority from the mundane side of the Sheikhs’. The Sheikh is left to follow up religious affairs and represents the sect with the government, as in Lebanon.
The remarkable fact about Dignity Sheikhs movement, led by Sheikh Wahid Balaous, is that it was not restricted to religious Druze, which indicates a return of active popular activity, against the will of the regime even though it is not directed completely against the regime itself. The fact that members of the National Defense Militia joined the Dignity Sheikhs movement indicated the strength and continuity of the Druze social contract despite the regime’s attempts to form other parallel bodies throughout the reign of the Baath regime. 
By the way in the same context I also recommend Aymenn Al-Tamimi's great work at Syria Comment on the newly established Druze militias including those affiliated with Bal'us.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

by Nour Samaha, Al Jazeera English
On September 5, Balous, a popular anti-government Druze leader, had just finished eating lunch in a village in Syria's southern Sweida governorate. A short time later, an explosion hit the convoy Balous was travelling in - killing him, his right-hand man, and several others. 
As the victims were arriving at the government hospital, there was another blast at the hospital's entrance. More than 25 people were killed and several dozen more were wounded in both bomb explosions. According to SANA, a Syrian state news agency, someone has since confessed to being responsible for the explosions and to belonging to the Nusra Front, one of the rebel groups fighting to end the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.(...) 
According to Tobias Long, a researcher and analyst on minorities in the Middle East, the Druze have limited options moving forward. "It's too early to tell how the situation will play out; the relationship between the Druze and the government won't improve after this because most will accuse the regime of being behind the assassination," he told Al Jazeera. "But on the other hand, there is no other real choice for the Druze of Sweida." 
This view was echoed by the Sweida residents with whom Al Jazeera spoke. "It doesn't matter how the opposition tries to paint the government," one resident said. "It's not out of love for the government that Sweida residents are behind it; it is out of complete fear of the opposition."

Antoine Lahad 1927-2015

General Antoine Lahad, the former head of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), died already a few days ago in his Paris exile. A retired Maronite general of the Lebanese army from Southern Lebanon, he took over the command of the SLA in 1984 following Major Saad Haddad's death from cancer.
The SLA was for the most time of its existence widely perceived as nothing more than a proxy of Israel and even disliked by many members of the rightist Christian Kataeb and Lebanese Forces. During Lahad's command the secterian composition of the SLA changed from mostly Christian to a more diverse membership with many - often forcibly conscripted - Shiites and Druze within its ranks but the leadership remained mostly Christian. The SLA also operated the prison facility of Khiam, which was notorious for heavy torture. The most famous prisoner was Souha Bechara, who committed an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Lahad in 1988. Lahad was sentenced to death in absentia for murder and torture by a Lebanese court.

South Lebanon Army Commander Antoine Lahad Dies in Paris at 88
by Jack Khoury, Haaretz
Lahad graduated from the Lebanese Army Military Academy in 1952 and served in the Lebanese army. He was close to President Camille Chamoun. In 1989 he was badly injured in an assassination attempt carried by Souha Bechara, a young woman in the Lebanese Communist Party, which supported the Palestinian struggle and opposed Israel’s presence in southern Lebanon. 
Lahad recovered from his injuries but did not regain full functioning, even though he remained the nominal commander of the SLA. In practice he was replaced by Col. Akl Hachem, who was assassinated by Hezbollah in January 2000, an incident that marked the beginning of the SLA’s dissolution.
Not being present during the collapse of the Israeli "security zone" in 2000, General Hummus, as he was nicknamed in Israel, opened a Lebanese restaurant in Tel Aviv and published his memories in Hebrew. Later he moved to France where he died.

Interview with Lahad from 2007 by Israeli online paper Y-Net

In the meanwhile a controversy arose in Lebanon, whether Lahad should be allowed to be buried in his Lebanese home village, the chances are not good...