March 31, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3730

Pro-Syrian Lebanese Daily: Syria Considers Al-Hariri Responsible for Riots in Syria

March 31, 2011
Syria, Lebanon | Special Dispatch No. 3730

In an April 3, 2011 address before parliament, his first since riots broke out in Syria and a day after his government's resignation, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad claimed that countries "far and near" were scheming against Syria and exploiting sincere demands for reform to overthrow his regime.[1]

Two days later, Ghassan Sa'ud, a columnist for the pro-Syrian and pro-Hizbullah Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, wrote that the Syrian regime had indications that the ones behind the riots in Syria were Lebanese Prime Minister S'ad Al-Hariri and his Al-Mustaqbal faction, who were working to spark a civil war between Sunnis and 'Alawis in Syria. Sa'ud article contained implicit threats against Al-Hariri and Al-Mustaqbal, and also against Al-Mustaqbal's ally in the March 14 Forces, the Lebanese Forces party.

The following are excerpts from Sa'ud's article:[2]

"Al-Hariri … is Threatening the Security and Stability of the Arab Syrian Republic"

"...There is no dispute among the March 8 [Forces, i.e., Hizbullah and its allies in Lebanon] that Prime Minister S'ad Al-Hariri is unable to protect himself, even in his own bedroom... [This notwithstanding,] Al-Hariri... has dozens [of people] operating in [Syria's] Daraa governorate to topple the Syrian regime. He [also] sent a man to Latakia governorate who, in exchange for bags of money, convinced the citizens of [this area to betray] their nationalism.

"Al-Hariri and no one else is the one doing what no Lebanese could do before him. He has done what Syria has been afraid of ever since Lebanon's establishment: He is threatening the security and stability of the Arab Syrian Republic.

"Undoubtedly, it is hard for most Lebanese to believe [the above claims] regarding Al-Hariri's exceptional abilities, but it is of no importance whether they believe it or not. What is important is that the Syrian leadership, which has spotted this plot and is [now] poised [to thwart] it, believes everything mentioned above... The Syrian leadership believes that it has enough objective evidence to indicate that Lebanese hands are fanning that flames of what it calls fitna [civil strife].

"The fitna of which the Syrian president spoke two days ago, and against which the [Syrian] government is warning, is fitna between Sunnis and 'Alawis. It is generated [by Al-Hariri and his associates,] who incite the Syrian Sunnis to rise up against what some term the exclusive domination of power [in Syria] by the 'Alawi minority and the exclusion of the Sunni [majority]...

"Whether or not [it is true that] ruffians [sent by] Al-Hariri were caught in Latakia and Deraa, and whether or not the Syrian oppositionists, whom Al-Hariri embraces, have supporters [in Syria], [the fact that] the Lebanese and Arab satellite channels have been focusing... on the rhetoric of [Sa'd] Al-Hariri, who for the last five years [has been talking] about the oppression suffered by the Sunnis, has contributed greatly to exacerbating sectarian [tensions] in Lebanon and outside it. Undoubtedly, Al-Hariri's accusations against the Assad regime – [namely] that it was responsible for the murder of his father... and that it has excluded the Sunnis [from the centers of power in Syria] – has affected the Sunnis not only in Lebanon. Hence, the Syrian accusation against Al-Mustaqbal, [that it is inciting] fitna in Syria, has nothing to do with some Syrian intellectuals finding cultural enlightenment [in Al-Hariri's home] in Quraitim, nor with the Al-Mustaqbal faction's eager [support for] the new 'Damascus Spring.'[3] Rather, it has to do with the Al-Mustaqbal's mouthpieces [inciting] sectarian [strife].

"According to sources close to the Syrian authorities, the [Syrian] leadership has reliable information [about Al-Mustaqbal's attempts to sow unrest in Syria. According to this information,] officials in the Lebanese security apparatuses who are affiliated with Al-Mustaqbal made intense efforts to encourage hundreds of Syrian workers to stage a sit-in strike in front of the Syrian embassy in Beirut in demand for economic reforms in their country... An examination of the Facebook groups calling to overthrow the Assad regime reflects an unprecedented [degree of] online intervention by one people [i.e., the Lebanese] in the affairs of another [i.e., the Syrians], because the number of Lebanese in these groups is twice as large as the number of Syrians..."

Three Kinds of Intervention: Sectarian Incitement, Online Activity, and Media Propaganda

"We can cite three [kinds of] Lebanese intervention in Syria's affairs. The first [kind], which is most dangerous in Syria's eyes, is sectarian incitement. The second [kind] is the online activity by Al-Mustaqbal supporters aimed at overthrowing the Syrian regime... and the third [kind] is [deceptive] coverage by some Lebanese media, which do not report on the events in Syria as they are but strive to influence them.

"Examining the coverage of the Syrian events, we [also] find that the Saudi channel Al-Arabiya is having a carnival of fabrications, which proves beyond any doubt [the veracity of] the official Syrian claims about a conspiracy [against Syria]. [For example,] the channel has shown footage of vehicles with armed men peering out of their windows, claiming that these were thugs of the Syrian regime. [But later] it transpired that this footage was actually of vehicles that had patrolled Beirut during the events of May 7 [2008, when Hizbullah took over the city]. The same channel also showed [purported] scenes of panic in the streets of Deraa, [and later] it turned out to be [footage of] ordinary events, speeded up.

"In sum, the Syrian regime is convinced – justifiably or not – of the existence of an international conspiracy against it, which, according to President Assad, is connected to regional and local elements. The regime itself has declared it is entering a phase of 'fighting the conspiracy and thwarting fitna,' and that the Al-Mustaqbal faction, and especially [Samir Geagea's] Lebanese Forces [party]... are part of this preparation for fitna. One may assume that Al-Mustaqbal and the [Lebanese] Forces will not emerge unscathed from the Syrian regime's struggle against fitna..."

[1], April 1, 2011.

[2] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), April 1, 2011.

[3] The Damascus Spring was a period of political and social awakening in Syria which started after the death of president Hafez Al-Assad in June 2000 and continued to some degree until autumn 2001, when it was gradually suppressed by the government. Activities included the establishment of associations for the promotion of democracy and civil society in Syria; a communiqué issued by 99 Syrian intellectuals demanding to end the state of emergency, liberate political prisoners, and conduct political and civil reforms; and the establishment of a human rights association. The hopes for change faded when, in August 2001, the authorities began arresting most of the reformists, who were sentenced to long periods in prison.

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