Mazen Salhi | Engineer Canada
July 14th, 2007

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

I have been thinking and engaging in discussions with friends about this question for over three weeks now. The question seems simple enough, yet if one probes the immediate suggestions that come to mind, one quickly finds that they raise many more questions that need further discussion. But come to think of it, that is probably exactly what Alex had in mind forwarding the subject. So, in a thousand words or less, here‚??s my bid to this month‚??s excellent question.

Ask most Syrian high school students: ‚??what career path are you planning to take?‚?Ě and the answer is almost universally a technical branch: Medicine, Engineering, Computer Science, Trade and Commerce, etc. Management, Law, Humanities, Political Science, and Sociology do not mean as much as they should in our part of the world, unfortunately. These fields will not land you a good paying job neither in Syria nor the Gulf states, and let‚??s face it; we all need the financial security, and most feel they must leave Syria to ensure it. Dominant for decades in Syria (and even more so in other Arab
states,) this trend has left our pool of human resources severely lacking in skills essential to running a modern functional state and society. I am not undermining the qualifications of the many outstanding individuals within Syria. I am simply pointing to the well known fact that Syria is losing its most precious resource on two fronts: migration and orientation. Syria loses many tens of thousands of its best minds every year to other countries, as well as to a severely imbalanced socio-economic orientation.

In my opinion, ‚??the most essential change‚?Ě needed is to stop losing this most precious of all resources, to stop the bleeding of the priceless Syrian minds and hearts. But how do you go about doing that? How do you convince Syrians that this is their country and it is much more than a goods and services dispenser? How do you get them to think more on what they can do for their country and less on what their country can do for them? Well, first of all, we need to ask the question why.

We can site hundreds of reasons, as I‚??m sure we all know, so I‚??m not going to ponder on them, but will state what I think is the fundamental reason. I think that most Syrians may have stopped believing in the system a long time ago. You see, when you lose this innermost faith, no remedy seems to work after that. After all, why should the miserable clerk not pocket a small ikramiyeh when he knows that his boss is doing it and getting away with it?
Why should he stop throwing garbage in the streets when he knows that some people have thrown poisonous waste in the land and not only got away with it, but made a kill of money as well. Why should he operate a fair business when he knows that certain individuals can muster exemption laws that only last for a few days, just long enough to get certain cargo into customs and make a huge profit from it. The examples are countless.

Humans will always defy the simplistic, flat logic of determinism; any approach to social issues must take that into account. Raise the salaries by a 25% and you will not necessarily get a 25% raise in approval. Open more private universities and the brain drain may even accelerate in stead of slowing down. If the people do not believe in the system, nothing will ever work.

For the people to believe in a system, it need be neither perfect nor flawless nor omnipotent. Such a system is indeed achievable, but it does need a number of elements, however, to get it started. It needs leadership, communication, and management. It needs consistency and equality in implementation. And it needs honest-to-God honesty. Does that seem too trivial or naive? I do not think so. In social and political issues, people have neither the time nor the means to form a complete understanding of what is going on. As a survival strategy, they have to build a model of the things they do not fully understand. This model is called upon in every single decision making situation that they face. Honesty and transparency will filter through the many barriers of communication and will influence this model that everyone has to have whether they‚??re aware of it or not.

My recommendations would have to be very general, but they can probably be summed in the following:

‚?Ę Reach out to the people in every way possible. For instance, I think we need to see the president and other top officials address the people more often. We need to hear them talk about the concerns of the Syrian people and about the road ahead with genuine care. We need to see them admit the issues at hand and tell us what they are doing to correct them, and we need to see them follow up on them.

‚?Ę Assemble teams of highly qualified specialists to conduct research and study projects for every ministry. Draw upon the excellent Syrian resources available world wide and build these think tanks. Their studies should make recommendations that are then taken up and implemented by the relevant ministries.

‚?Ę Fix the judicial system and stop corruption. Corruption destroys the consistency in the system, which will make the people lose faith. One of the two has to go, and I think that the cost of ending corruption is less than the cost for losing the people‚??s faith in the system.

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57 Responses to the Article

Majhool Says:

Mazen,

Amen to a quicker transition?

saint Says:

Mazen,
Syria could have the best foreign policy in the region, but this does not feed the people and create better future for them. Syria could have the best minds in the region, but it worth zero if not used and materialized by dialogue and participation in what ever system you want, communist, socialist or capitalist.

I do not approach things on the basis of black and white, and the devilish quality is not implicit, it is in the act of the persons or group and in the end it is in the results on the ground. In the case for Syria, the government or the elites who are governing Syria do not always represent Syria; they also represent themselves and their failed history.
The country is moving to market economy not because they find that it is for the best of the country, but because they are bankrupt as a system. Do not forget that by adopting market economy they already have cancel themselves by rejecting the whole history which they built their own power on. They know, and we know that they are in this period of history are a transitional force and they are trying to hold on power as a survival mode. And if my theory is correct, I hope they do the right steps to help this transitional period. Notice I am not attacking anybody here I‚??m just trying to read the events.

The great powers are not after Syria but after the Syrian elites and that is a fact. I wish to see the System consider the wellbeing of the whole country ahead of the individuals. Notice with all this hoopla about the attack on Syria, our territories are not under threat. For example, China, and any country in the world are usually eagerly looking for USA investment, except Syrian‚??s elites who still teaching kids and their party members about the bad capitalism of USA. So, who should wake up me or them?

There is another thing, the system in Syria is continually and historically trying hard to conceal the essential rule of big power and their rule as the engine of world economy from the Syrian people putting their corruptions and bankrupt system ahead of the people. We have seen the system has wised up couple of years ago and knew that his future is to make peace with big power, but they want to do it without loosing dignity. They built the needed fortunes which should qualify them to be partners with the big powers but still the big power do not want to play with them. Their bad luck that the big power does not wants to make peace with them. And that is the main factor in their stiff foreign policy. Covering this truth to serve their own wellbeing is what is wrong with them, because on the long run this contradiction will bite them after already has bitten the whole country for a long, long time. The system has milked Arabism and nationalism for very long time and the winner in the end was not the people but only the elites.

What one could concludes form the whole debate on this long thread is the important of dialogue and how it is essential for the system in Syria to know that without dialogue there want be solutions. This process of contribution and involvement is the hall mark of the development; otherwise the manager of a prison will not get anything from his captives.

Mazen Says:

Majhool, Amen to seeking a quicker transition into an accountable transparent system, and against promoting the status quo. The only issue is in our evaluation of this person or party. How do we know for sure that person A is working towards something or not working towards it. And would you just follow “anyone” if they gave us sweet talk and loads of promises? Haven’t this medicine been tried before?

And Saint, let me say again that I indeed find many issues in Syria inexplainable and inexcusable even with the highest doses of good faith one can muster. However, I disagree with your portrait of the System is seeking the approval of the Big Power (BP) as its first priority. I think that the root of the conflict may be that the BP has been pressuring Syria into giving up the Jolan because the Israelis want to keep it, as well as other rights. The reason for their refusal to strike this deal is open for debate, but at least the System has clearly refused to give in. Note the Egyptian example who has given in and given up everything to the GP, and has since NOT lost its reason for existence, as a “reason” for not cooperating that has been thrown around. Do the extrapolation yourself, if you like.

The talk about the elite behavior in Syria is true. I am not blind to that. But please consider that it is the SAME in many countries that the GP approves of. Have you been to any of these countries lately? or at all? The voices of their citizens are mercilessly muted whenever they ask for what you are asking for in their own countries. Where is the GP?

My point? the BP couldn’t care less about us getting a Rule of Law in Syria. Or about the life and well being of our children. Iraq is a burning example to us all. WMDs and Human Rights were NOTHING but lies. How many lies are we going to swallow?

In no way am I hinting to a choice to be made between black and white. There has not been any white for a long long time. The BP in my eyes right now resembles lethal bloody zift, and I am resist it as much as possible. (You know the old joke about the watchmaker who was brought two watches to evaluate. After looking at the first one carefully, he advised the client to buy the second one, without even looking at it) Only this time I think it is more applicable to the GP promised paradise.

Sectarian butchery and kidnapping, cluster bombs, DU in infants brains, and fanatic religion somehow somehow seem a little more dangerous to me than the status quo in Syria.

One last time, I am not defending the corrupt elite in Syria, and I am not advocating that we stop asking for and working towards what is rightfully ours in all peaceful ways possible.

Majhool Says:

Mazen & Saint,
Excellent exchange! Worthy of study in a political science class!
Few comments:
1) I totally agree with Saint that being relevant in regional politics does not necessarily correlate to the well being of the nation.
2) The regime‚??s wins in the regional arena could defiantly be inline with people‚??s interest. For example (the circumcision of any possible American occupation). These wins are welcomed.
3) On the other hand, losses sometimes are inline with people‚??s interest, for example the forced pull-out of Lebanon and the forced opening the economy. These losses are also welcomed.
4) It‚??s very true, that the great powers GP are after the Syrian elite, and that the Syrian elite is trying hard to reconcile their interests with the GP (similar to how Egypt is today & how Syria was in the 90s). I agree with Mazen that GP don‚??t give a damn about the nation‚??s interest. And why should they?
5) Reconciling the interests of the elite and GP is very dangerous if done at the expense of people interest.
6) To circumvent any future reconciliation of that nature, The Syrian elite need to be governed by the nation‚??s interests. This require at a minimum rule of law, accountability and legitimacy. This is lacking.
7) Mazen, objective evaluation of person A is not possible unless person A is willing to be accountable. The elite continue to resist any accountability. I will cite the president speech as an example
8) I continue to be a firm believer that the ‚??struggle‚?Ě for improved legitimacy and accountability must continue and should not slow down under any circumstances. prompting status quo ( Alex‚??s position) to the benefit of the elite will come and bite us sooner or later.

Majhool Says:

Funny reading taken from Syria comment

Majhool said:

Deaf people dialog:

Majhool: I Ask the Syrian leadership to enhance its accountability and legitimacy. I wish Assad commited to that in his speach.

Alex: Regime change is an American conspiracy

Majhool: Regime change?!! I am not calling for a regime change.

Alex: ‚??Syria‚?Ě did not kill Hariri‚?¶

Majhool: Who mentioned the Hariri? Speaking of Hariri, Syrian leadership abused/mismanaged its stay in Lebanon.

Alex: According to my polls 99% of the Syrian people love Bashar..

Majhool: they do? Anyways, this is not the topic, Basically I would like to see the rule of law back into effect in Syria.

Alex: There is hatred among the different Syrian communities.

Majhool: you just said, 99% love Bashar? Besides if that‚??s the case who‚??s to blame? The government , no?

Alex: Al shark- Al-Awsat and Saudia Arabia are spreading lies.

Majhool: Who?!! let‚??s stick to the subject. I think Syria‚??s interest are better served if the Syrian regime was to share power, even gradually, and capitalize on its marginalized human capital.

Alex: you love the Saudis and want to hurt Syria..

Majhool: That‚??s not what I am saying

Alex: Read this book ( ABCDE‚?¶‚?¶ )Bush wants to‚?¶

Mahjool: Stop!! my aspirations has nothing to do with Bush, Jordan, Saudia Arabia.. I seek improvements in Syria.

Alex: you have to be positive when you deal with the government.

Majhool: I am positive. I just have demands.

Alex: for the regime people are Hasharat ‚??insects‚?Ě who are you to demand?

Majhool: A Syrian citizen?

Alex: you are a Jordan lover, aren‚??t you

Majhool: No I am not. It just hurt to see them ahead of us, let‚??s say in education.

Alex: you are just with regime change, admit it.

Majhool: I am not. I am with the lifting of emergency laws. For example.

Alex: : we are not ready

Majhool: they have been telling us that for the past 40 years!!

Alex: we need more time

Majhool: Who are we?

Alex: them, I meant.

Majhool: shouldn‚??t be about us?

Alex: you are with bush aren‚??t you, your heart beats with joy every time ‚??Syria‚?Ě takes a beating.

Majhool: what do you mean by Syria, we or them?

and it goes on and on.

Alex, eshta2nalak

saint Says:

Mazen, I believe that the dialog which we went through is objective in itself. We should have differences and the important thing is to celebrate these differences, it enriches our knowledge. The message from all previous dialog is that we should keep on talking; we should always defend the freedom of speech for ourselves and for our people inside the iron fist. At least historically it is time to have our voices loud in support of the people who are demanding to speak, it is their inalienable rights.

I was going to debate the issue but thanks to Majhool, he has articulated the response in professional terms, I do not have these tools, I‚??m not a political science graduate.

Alex, you are doing great service to your country by opening this slot to let people debate. And you are may be at best if you keep your rule as a moderator and administrator for the site.

The Syrian regime is harming the country by not working with all spectrum of the society who are willing to work with him, and by not letting people speak their minds. I would love to see the regime invigorate his own traditional system of dialog and his members participation with public. I hope it will reestablish his tradition inside the Baath party, which unfortunately keeps taking a wrong turns and get alienated from his own principals and from people. Change is good, we all should welcome change.

Mazen Says:

Majhool, Saint, and Alex,

Thank you all for your time and thoughtful notes. I do strongly believe that it is beneficial to the people doing the writing, as well as to the many Syrians doing the reading.

Saint, it is not a deaf people’s dialog but rather the limitation of this means of communication. I think given all the circumstances, the exchange has been excellent and very enriching.

Best regards to all!!

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