Ford Prefect | Galaxy Hitchhiker Stuck in Djibouti
July 14th, 2007

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

‚??Change!‚?Ě It seems this word has become the ultimate fashion statement today ‚?? surpassing Prada, Moschino, and KFC. And of course the never-to-be-missed fashion statements of ‚??behavior change‚?Ě and ‚??regime change.‚?Ě Change, as we now hear it, is an actionable verb rather than a benign noun. This change cannot wait; it must be carried out immediately, and especially before Bush leaves the White House to some non-God-fearing Republican or Democrat.

Many have rushed to answer the call of duty for change in Syria. ‚??Change Bashar!‚?Ě they say. Change the Ba‚??ath. Change the economy. Change the borders. Change the army. Change the attitude. Change the falafel. Change‚?¶change‚?¶change!

But some questions deserve to be asked at this point. What‚??s the rush for? Where is it coming from? What are the motives of its main sponsors? What are the Syrians really missing out on by not changing as fast as Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine did? And once they change, which fashionable pr√™t-a-porter gown are they supposed to wear from the Benevolent Hegemony Collection?

One lesson that clearly emerges from successful change experiences in the last century – from Peru to Spain to the Philippines – is that the underlying institutional infrastructure of the society must be capable of withstanding, embracing, and protecting the implemented change ‚?? especially if the change is toward a liberal democracy.

Administered properly, with competence, and within a broad international framework, outside-induced change can sometimes produce better end results than what previously existed. But the true measure of its success is not the stealth speed of the change process. Rather, it is the stability, sustainability, and the emergence of solid political and economic institutions by which it should truly be measured.

But to say that changing an authoritarian regime can produce a liberal democracy by default is as absurd as saying a ‚??troop surge‚?Ě in Iraq will produce victory.

So what would I change in Syria if I had a choice? Nothing – especially if the drivers for change are born to solve problems in the West. When healthy and strong political and economic institutions finally emerge in Syria, organic change and a smooth cutover will occur naturally. Meanwhile, support is all what the Syrians want, not change. They are changing already.

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10 Responses to the Article

Alex Says:


This time I will publish it even though it is only 375 words. Next time please respect our rules … 500 words minimum.

I will help you move out of Djibouti if you manage to send me a longer version of the above piece : )

But I enjoyed reading it. Thanks for writing. I know how busy you are these days.

Fored Prefect Says:

Thanks Alex and sorry about the 500 words rule (where did that rule come from? I must have missed it. I struggled to trim my essay down so I don’t crash your server!) Yes, I am still “stuck” until next Friday.

abu kareem Says:


Who’s rushing for change? certainly no one on this forum. If there is a sense of impatience, though, it is perhaps that forty four years of inertia makes one a little antsy. Personally, I am in no rush, but then again, I am sitting outside looking in. A Syrian worker, on the other hand, who cannot earn a living wage and wonders about how to feed his family as he stares at the $800 Prada outfit in the store window, may have much less patience than I.

I agree that change should come organically and from the inside. But permit me to push the metaphor a little. Even if you go organic and forgo artificial (Western) fertilizers, change still needs “natural” fertilizers (ie: a free flow of ideas, debate,discussion), a commodity that is severly restricted within Syria.

Majhool Says:

Abu Kareem,

Since we seem to always agree on things..I am going to lend you my voice permanently

Fored Prefect Says:

Abou Kareem,

Thanks for the feedback. Indeed, more than 40 years of terrible political, social, and economic policies did cause severe damage to the Syrian society ‚?? some of which is irreparable, unfortunately.

When delusional Syrian army officers took over Syrian rule in the early sixties, while most were patriotic and may have had genuine (albeit misguided) intentions, they were at the same time incompetent and lack modern leadership qualities to transform Syria into a modern nation state.

The results we see today are the manifestation of those disastrous policies of the past. Raging corruption, high unemployment, cronyism, low economic output, and broad intellectual shortcomings at all levels. I think both of us have built our lives elsewhere to escape the repressive and anti-modern policies of the past 40 years.

However, history tells us for example, that Franco, Pinochet, and the Shah authoritarian regimes and repressive policies cannot last permanently because they lack ‚??anti‚?Ě human aspirations. All human aspire to be free and democratic and therefore, sustaining tyranny and oppression, by default, is impractical.

In Portugal, for example, many Europeans wondered about the ‚??passive, fatalistic, and endlessly melancholy‚?Ě of the Portuguese people who seemed to be unworthy of the liberal democracy values in the rest of Western Europe. But the Portuguese people proved them wrong. The ruthless and authoritarian rule of Salazar and Caetano were soon evolved (peacefully and orderly) to the liberal democracy we see in Portugal today.

But to deliver on the human aspiration of freedom and democracy, certain pre-conditions must exist: viable liberal political and economical institutions. It is one thing to go to the voting booth and cast a vote; but it is another to have a liberal and democratic society supported by institutions that guarantee a distinct set of individual rights.

These institutions are extremely complex, hard to build, and carry an authentic stamp of the societies from which they are built. It is unimaginable to copy the Portuguese liberal institutions, for example, and paste them onto Syria to generate democracy.

For liberal democracy to emerge in Syria, I argue that one must look at many factors in addition to (and equally as important) the typical sensational one, that of the regime‚??s characteristics of oppression and authoritarianism. Observing the maturity of these factors is very important to guard against the control of the elites of the democratic institutions that could revert Syria back to authoritarianism. The examples of Syria in the 50‚??s and early 60‚??s illustrate that point clearly.

Hence, I am arguing in support of the natural and organic growth of liberal thinking in Syria ‚?? which must progress on its own pace ‚?? a pace that has been empirically proven to follow no rationally defined time frame. And as you have indicated, infusing this organic growth with ‚??natural‚?Ě fertilizers is a duty of all Syrians and I cannot agree more with you on that thought.

At a certain point in time of the evolving progress (I call it the ‚??Tipping Point‚?Ě – borrowing from Caldwell‚??s remarkable book), liberal democracy becomes inevitable. When would this ‚??tipping point‚?Ě arrive is virtually impossible to predict. But what is easy to predict is demise of democracy if these factors have not sufficiently evolved and matured.

As for the urgency of the unemployed wage earner who is trying to feed a family and wonders about an $800 suite, I hear you. It is appalling to have such a wide gap between the rich and the poor, not only in Syria but everywhere. I also understand and rationalize the sentiments of urgency of the wage earners and the poor population to ‚??fix‚?Ě the problem; but let us not lead them to their demise by artificially fixing things.

Again, I appreciate your feedback and always welcome the lively discussion.

Alex Says:


Luckily we are now beyond the misunderstanding that there was some window of opportunity (or that we were transported quickly towards the tipping point) with the help of the “international community” to overthrough the regime and wake up the next day in a democratic Syria somehow. I am happy that most of the Syrians who supported this direction are now convinced it was a mistake.

We will reach that tipping point when we reach it … organically and with the use of reasonable amounts of fertilizers (Abu Kareem) … and we will be patient and realistic about how long it takes… without being lazy and careless.

Trillian Says:

FP –

I agree with you on not rushing to change until the time is right, until political and economic institutions are well established. I also believe that for change to work, it must have the full backing of the Syrian people, and the plan for change should not be generically generated and implemented by a foreign government (ex: USA in Iraq).

Unfotunately, those calling for change in Syria are being heard loud and clear in Washington, where decisions are made selfishly and relentlessly. Surely, they don’t have the Syrian population in mind. If I may elaborate on FP’s point: this type of rash, biased decision making is precisely what we should guard against. We should ask ourselves: are the Syrian people ready for change? Is this generation ready to sacrifice the relative stability of life as they know it (as change does not happen overnight) for future generations to live in a free, peaceful Syria?

Alex Says:

Good question Trillian

If change is potentially painful, then who has the motivation today to volunteer risking his safety and comfort in exchange for the potential benefits?

In my opinion, the past few years the following types were the most vocal in demanding fast, risky, change:

1) Some rich Syrian expats and opposition activists in exile unable to find another source of living besides political opposition … despite their refusal to admit it, the fact they were very willing to risk chaos in Syria is related to the fact they were personally safe in Europe or the United States…. no risk for them.

2) others who had ideological motives … human rights activists, religious activists, some intellectuals … for this type, the current regime is impossible to tolerate.

3) corrupt politicians and wannabe politicians who were promised a role to play if they help some outsiders in their quest to “make Syria democratic”.

For me I must admit that when this administration declared its grand plan to liberate the Middle East I was not sure what to make of it .. on the one hand I knew the Middle East’s problems are not as simple as the Americans were portraying them. On the other hand, I thought “I’m sure the CIA knows everything and have done a good job analyzing the situation” .. maybe they will bring Democracy to the Middle East this way??!

My indecision did not last long. When the unguarded Iraqi museum was looted while the Americans were protecting the ugly cement building of the ministry of oil … when Farid Ghadri was picked as the administration’s favorite “next president of Syria” and when I realized that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan (the relatively easier uniform Sunni states) were not the first targets for change but instead Iraq and Syria (full of complex population patterns and history) were the targets simply because they were not headed by puppet leaders… there was no doubt in mind: this was leading to a disaster.

That’s were I was very disappointed in all those leading Syrians who were still hopeful (some in open, or many in private conversations) that the United States will “help” in Syria as soon as it is done in Iraq… to me they were either too idealistic, too sectarian, too blind, or too selfish.

Now that most Syrians are aware of the foolishness of that option, the question is: How do we make it easier on the regime to move it a bit faster? how do we motivate them to not be afraid of faster gradual change?

saint Says:

I thought the question was a hypothetical one just to present some thoughts so we can dream of better tomorrow, but FP analysis a very depressing. Off course it is hypothetical because the regime is well entrenched and he repeatedly keep saying he would not share governing with wider section of the people and this is his private kingdom. Your post FP is saying: do not dream people the current status quo is the bet we can hope for.
FP if your post is intended for that part of the oppositions who are advocating and working on regime change it might be valid presentation, but you are talking to an audience who mainly been disfranchised for a log time and have found this forum a way to present their hopes and dreams.
The regime is changing through our collective work, not on his own. If it up to him, it is a nice milking cow can milk it for ever, by keeping the status quo. Telling the regime and government you are doing good job do not change a thing, it is a treason our collective dreams for better days and for our goals for freedom and equality. In the dark day of civil strive in America in the Sixties, Martin Luther King planted only a small dream so he can cultivate the results ages after that. According to you FP, you left the country when you could not stand the oppression and because of the inhuman treatment of people, now you want us not to change a thing, but wait for the regime to make the change and when the cocking is ready we can join the table. No, this is not something accepted to me to say the least.

Majhool Says:


I agree with every word you said. There has to be a “nagging momentun” otherwise they will milk that cow to death.

I think people do relize that change coming from west will be costly. We are not ready for immidiate change becasue we have no instiutions that can survie a sudden change (Thanks to the regime of course).

I find Alex’s suggestion to support the regime in order to speed change somewhat unrealistice and actually quite a gamble, what gurentee do we have that once the pressure eases the regime will relax and keep the everlasting status quo?

I think any support needs to be conditional. “you do this for me I do that for you”..

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