By Nicholas Noe & Walid Raad


Aug. 15, 2011 (Bloomberg) -- As the death toll from unrest in Syria mounts,
with perhaps as many as 2,000 killed in the past five months, Mideast
commentators who support the Syrian regime have become increasingly rare.


Even the publications of Syria's traditional allies, such as the Palestinian
Hamas movement, whose top leadership is based in Damascus, are giving space to
harsh indictments of those loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.


In the pro-Hamas, Gaza-based daily Al-Resaleh last week, columnist Moumen
Bseiso wrote that the Syrian regime “is extremely hostile to the aspirations
and rights of its people” even though it enjoys “an honorable record at the
foreign level" as a leader of resistance to Israeli and Western agendas in the


In an unsubtle reference to Assad’s confident pronouncement to the Wall Street
Journal at the beginning of the year that Syria was immune to the uprisings in
the rest of the Arab world because of its foreign policy, Bseiso concluded
that coexistence between the “course of domestic tyranny and foreign dignity …
cannot last forever.” The values of “freedom, dignity and justice are absolute
values and strategic principles that cannot be traded.”


Some of the strongest criticism has come from Saudi owned media, especially in
the wake of Saudi King Abdullah’s recent call for Assad to “stop the killing
machine” followed by Saudi Arabia's recall of its ambassador to Syria.


In the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat, one of the most widely circulated
Saudi-owned dailies, 15 of the last 19 opinion pieces focused on Syria, with
almost all arguing that the Syrian regime was unambiguously evil and would
inevitably fall.


Among them was a piece by columnist and TV show host Hussein Shobokshi, who


  Even the most optimistic of observers couldn't have imagined such a closing
  scene for the Syrian regime. The popular uprising there is glowing with
  determination and enthusiasm, as internal support grows alongside
  international approval and blessing. Even the staunchest followers and
  allies of the Syrian regime couldn't have conceived such fragility and
  stupidity on its part, but this is how events have developed.


An editorial in the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah was blunt: “The regime in Syria has
not only lost its legitimacy, but it is important to get rid of it hastily to
save the Syrian people.”


Another Saudi paper, Al-Watan, suggested in an editorial that the Syrian
people would take matters in their own hands: "The Syrian people, like the
Egyptians, have broken the fear barrier, and that will become clearer in the
coming days.”


The Syrian media, which is almost entirely state-owned, has generally produced
the mirror opposite of the narrative that has dominated the Saudi papers,
using the same tone of moral certainty.


Columnist Adham al-Tawil wrote in the daily Tishreen that “some of our Arab
brothers,” on instructions from external powers, adopted “lame, one-track
positions that borrowed Western -- and indeed American -- logic, wrapped with
the false slogan of Arab eagerness to stop the bloodshed in Syria.” He


  The brothers who are eager to preserve our blood ignored -- in an insincere,
  unfair and provocative way -- all the facts offered by the Syrian state,
  whether concerning the acts of killing and destruction that are being
  committed by armed groups targeting the country’s security, sovereignty and
  the future of its people, or concerning the important reform package that
  President Bashar al-Assad announced.


Syria, he added, knows that “the positions and statements issued by some Arabs
regarding the events in Syria are not meant as advice and assistance, and that
they do not reflect real Arab concern.”


Columnist As'ad Abbud agreed, adding in the newspaper Al-Thawarah that Israel,
and behind it the U.S., is waging a conflict not against Syria alone “but
against Syria, Iran and the resistance forces." He continued:


  America’s basic conflict is with Iran. The aim is, first, to serve Israel as
  a priority in the region and the world, and, second, to prevent the
  emergence of a powerful country with a policy independent from the United
  States and NATO.


Since Iran managed to foil efforts to undermine it, the U.S., Israel and the
West generally, Abbud argued, have now turned their attention to Syria.


A different columnist at Al-Thawarah, Khalid al-Ashhab, argued that the police
response to recent rioting in London demonstrated that Western calls for UN
action against Syria for responding to unrest there is a "flagrant double
standard.” In the UK, authorities were dealing merely with looters, he wrote,
whereas in Syria, the army responded to distress calls from citizens in order
to confront “armed terrorist groups," justifying lethal action.


In an interestingly measured piece, columnist Raslan Halabi, writing in
Al-Baath, the official daily of the ruling Baath party, offered cautious words
for what he described as the “national opposition only.”


The opposition, he warned, is “taking things in a very simple way, as it
perceives that it will come to power and run a democratic pluralistic
government, as it suggests. This reflects ignorance and an underestimation of
the special case of Syria and its ethnic and religious diversity.”


Voicing what remains one of the strongest lines of argument for many Syrians
not yet opposed to the regime, Halabi continued:


  Since we cannot assume that this new government will be strong and we cannot
  assume that the change process will take place calmly and without
  repercussions, it will face unlimited problems that push the situation
  toward chaos.


Halabi pointed to two neighboring countries that also have populations split
along religious and ethnic lines -- Lebanon and Iraq, both of which have been
scarred by sectarian violence. These examples, he wrote, "push everyone loyal
to this country to be cautious."


Given the circumstances, caution seemed an appropriate state of mind,
especially when compared to the utter certainty other commentators have been
peddling of late.


(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World View
blog. The opinions expressed are their own.)


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