Ayman Hakki | MD/Prof Georgetown U. United States
July 9th, 2007

Re: ‘If you had the choice what would you change in Syria?

Syria is a management problem not a regime problem. This statement seems wrong at first glance but it is a possible explanation of why Syria was so resistant to the rapid changes envisioned by its young president when he first came to power. If my hypothesis is correct (and it is only a hypothesis) then even if the regime‚??s higher-ups wanted some beneficial changes to occur, these specific changes would be resisted at the lower levels. There are concrete examples of this in today‚??s Syria. Recently, I was assured by Imad Moustapha (my friend and our Ambassador in Washington D.C.) that I was cleared to go back to Syria, but a simple check of the airport computer showed I was still wanted for questioning! I won‚??t bore you with the details, but it seems that I had been cleared by the highest authority in the regime‚??s security apparatus, but it didn‚??t make it down the ladder of the many lower rungs of his own security apparatus. All Syrians have a similar story to tell, it is a regime or bold leadership stymied by fearful underlings and turf protection. This in itself doesn‚??t make change impossible. To counter this mentality we must identify our own nature and use existing management modules for change. Change is needed, but first we must also understand how not to change. First; a great example of how not to change from ‚??within‚?Ě is the PLO, once they were in charge they messed it all up, and so did every Arab regime interested in change. Second; how not to change from ‚??without‚?Ě is the Iraqi module, where the US came in and messed things up just as badly. The parallel between Gaza and Sader City are enormous and what we Syrian don‚??t want is both these modules of change. But we still need beneficial change. Our nature I call; Brand Syria, and the change module I‚??m speaking of I call; The Leadership Initiative.

THE LEADERSHIP INITIATIVE: From a management stand point there are three identifiable factors that prevent Syria from changing: The natural resistance of all humans to change, real fears that make real change risky, and the absence of leadership at the lower levels of society. With the possible exception of the President and his educated wife change is not desired in today‚??s Syria. But if Syria were to want change then it must be sold on the fact that it wont end up like Iraq or Palestine. For change to occur (in a painless fashion) it must be a-political in implementation but hyper-political in motivation. A veritable ready to launch plot to be set into motion by the president and his wife at the right time. It must be a micro-managed top-down leadership change under the pretext of defying Israeli and Western plans for kill Syria. 1- Change must be sold to every one in Government, and packaged as a necessity; change or perish. 2- Change must be abrupt and radical because the advisability of thoughtful incremental change is a myth. 3- Change must be made at the local level, and supported by a new cadre of dynamic well versed leaders. My leadership initiative is a simple concept, bordering on simplistic, that seems more daunting than it is: Identify Syria‚??s nascent leaders in every field, sell them on change (a change based on an existing model for change like the Chinese model but modified to meet Syria‚??s very different needs), then train them using existing leadership methodology. Then wait for the right political moment and disperse them within the population to act as catalysts for peaceful-change. This moment must be a moment where our enemy is about to pounce on us and we are willing to do anything to beat that enemy. So we must understand who we are first and who our enemy is, because our enemy today defines us.

WHO WE ARE: I call our nature ‚??Brand Syria‚?Ě and this brand is defined by our innate resistance to Israeli inspired US world hegemony. Historically Brand Syria has always been more about ‚??reaction‚?Ě than it ever was about action, therefore waiting for that moment to arrive where we are most likely to react would be consistent with our nature. Presently Syrian of all stripes are reacting to spreading Israeli-inspired U.S. world hegemony. But we‚??ve been doing this before there even was an Israel. Before 48 our Brand had rejected Ottoman, Crusader, Fatimid etc., world hegemony. Our Brand credo is ‚??no,‚?Ě or more precisely; our credo is ‚??yes, but‚?Ě! With that ‚??but‚?? effectively canceling the yes. Our most often heard Syria phrase is ‚??ay, bas.‚?Ě Look carefully at it‚?¶it’s an equivocation of an affirmation. It’s so bad, that we can’t even say no without a caveat. Brand Syria’s logo would be-if it had one-a Kufi calligraphy LA, inside a crescent. A fertile crescent, not an Islamic crescent one…mind you. ‚??Yes,‚?¶but‚??, that subtle no, is the one thing that binds Syrians everywhere. So, if you ask Syrians; do you want change? They will all say Aye‚?¶bass! Do you want to fight Israel? They say; yes, but! Peace with Israel? No. Are you anti American? No. Pro American? No. For Iraqi freedom? No. Saddam? no., Pro Lebanon’s freedom? No, etc. Our brand offers no logic other than its own, and Syria has no brand-tenants (or brand explaining rules) because there’s nothing we wouldn’t say no to, and nothing we would really like to say yes to.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE. By surviving 10,000 years Syria has done well with this odd mind-set. Therfore our brand allows for everything except extinction. Other persecuted Brands have flourished in the past and so can we. Under much worse circumstances of world wide indifference and attack, our Jewish cousins (Brand Judea) who were then even more scattered and a-political‚?¶reconciled and acted. And by adopting a ‚??why not‚?Ě attitude they now seem to rule the world by proxy. We Syrians can do it, too. And with globalization, what was once achieved by brand Judea in sixty years Brand Syrians can achieve in twenty, once proactive preparation begins and the right moment comes.

REFERENCES: Hakki, A.R. Brand Syria, (2005) www.middleastforum.com. Larkin, T.J. & Larkin, S. (2004) Reaching and changing frontline employees, Harvard Business Review, 95-104 Offerman, L.R. (2004) When followers become toxic. Harvard Business Review,54-60. Sashkin & Rosenbach (1993) New Leadership Paradigm

Ayman Rajai Hakki MD, assistant clinical professor of surgery, Georgetown University. Washington D.C.

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9 Responses to the Article

Maya Naser Says:

Dear Sir,

I have read your article carefuly and manytimes, and i found it wiered to define the problem in concluision of your personal one

I don’t think in one man show you would find such defination, things are more easier… and if the problem the way you have described it above… thes its much bigger that the original one

abu kareem Says:

Dr. Hakki,

But isn’t the “Ay Bas” mentality cultivated from the top? We have presidents for life. We have leaders with no vision and only a capability to react to maintain the status quo. If that mentality in the top leadership has changed since 2000, as you said, then that has to be passed on to the lower echelons. This is still a top down autocracy. When laws are passed by presidential decree you would think a mandate can be passed to change the mentality of the middle and lower echelons of government without having to bother with the legistlative process. Simply, you behave or you are fired. This paradigm is being applied effectively on human right activists (for promoting constructive change btw) expect that the choices there behave or end up in jail.

DJ Says:

Mr. Hakki,

I like your article‚?¶.
It kind of reminds me of a business book I‚??ve read once (who moved my cheese‚?¶)

DJ Says:

Alex, sorry for the goof .. I think I wanted to vote 5 and voted one instead…any way to rectify this?

Wassim Says:

I like your overall direction Dr Hakki, though I have my reservations about Syrian resistance to hegemony since the days of the Fatimids as you put it. Your La logo made me smile, perhaps because that is the logo for my own blog and typifies a lot of what I rant and rave about all the time.

George Ajjan Says:

Dr. Hakki brings to mind a discussion I had with a friend during my last visit to Damascus in 2003, who is a dual-citizen (S.A.R. and U.S.A.).

We talked about the prospect of reform, and he gave me a skeptical look, and said, “do you think the people really want reform? Why would they want reform when they know exactly which policeman they can pay bakhsheesh of 50 sp to get what they need?”

So I don’t believe top-down will work necessarily.

Alex Says:

Abu Kareem,

I think it is both. There are certain reforms which are slowed down at the top (press freedom being an obvious example), others are very much encouraged at the top but parts of the population (at different levels) are not cooperating.

DJ, I will look at the database. It should be easy to edit the last line (your ratings).

University Update - University of Washington - Says:

[…] State University Link to Article university of washington » Posted at Creative Forum – Golan Heights home on […]

Ayman Hakki Says:

I’m not saying that the problems are not there. I’m saying that when asked how should they be fixed, the obvious answer is a top-down reform. Were it not for the examples surrounding Syria, I would have opted for more dramatic change. At times of grave external pressure, internal reform is needed. The Romanian example versus the Polish example speaks directly to the advisability of internal reforms leading to less chaotic outcomes

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