December 27/14

Bible Quotation for today/Jesus Warns against the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees
Matthew 23: "Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples. “The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees are the authorized interpreters of Moses' Law.  So you must obey and follow everything they tell you to do; do not, however, imitate their actions, because they don't practice what they preach.  They tie onto people's backs loads that are heavy and hard to carry, yet they aren't willing even to lift a finger to help them carry those loads.  They do everything so that people will see them. Look at the straps with scripture verses on them which they wear on their foreheads and arms, and notice how large they are! Notice also how long are the tassels on their cloaks! They love the best places at feasts and the reserved seats in the synagogues;  they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have people call them ‘Teacher.’  You must not be called ‘Teacher,’ because you are all equal and have only one Teacher.  And you must not call anyone here on earth ‘Father,’ because you have only the one Father in heaven.  Nor should you be called ‘Leader,’ because your one and only leader is the Messiah.  The greatest one among you must be your servant.  Whoever makes himself great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be made great."

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on December 26-27/14
As ISIS holds its pilot prisoner, what can Jordan do/Raed Omari /Al Arabiya/December 26/14
Thawing U.S. ties: Cuba today, Iran tomorrow/Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya/December 26/14

Lebanese Related News published on December 26-27/14
3 Militants Killed as Army Thwarts Infiltration Attempt near Arsal
Hezbollah's Sayyed Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed says relations with Maronite church 'strong'
Hizbullah Reiterates Support to Aoun for Presidency after Talks with al-Rahi
Hezbollah urges ‘sincere efforts’ for Lebanon peace
Geagea warns Fattoush against constructing Zahle cement plant
Lebanese Army kills 3 gunmen on Syria border
Hezbollah sheikhs tour south Lebanon churches
Aoun, Geagea meeting achievable: Kanaan
Al-Rahi to Support Any Presidential Candidate if Rivals Agree
Daryan Returns from Jeddah, Says Saudi King Welcomes Dialogue in Lebanon
Syria Refugees Suffer Bitter Cold of Lebanon Winter
Report: Hizbullah Detains 'Israeli Spy' in its Ranks
Construction of Zahle cement factory halted
Kahwagi, MP Aoun meet in apparent mending of ties
State sovereignty key for economic prosperity: Siniora
Neither Geagea nor Aoun can be president: Machnouk
Dialogue first step to electing president: Future MP
Anti-Christmas sheikh sparks online ridicule
What's on this weekend in Beirut?

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on December 26-27/14
Israeli court orders state to raze West Bank outpost
ISIS capture of Jordanian pilot puts US and Jordan in conflicting dilemmas, may be pivotal to anti-terror war
Amman working to secure safe release of ISIS-held pilot: minister
Egyptian Coptic teen seized in Libya found dead: hospital
Turkey frees schoolboy arrested for 'insulting' Erdogan
Erdogan tells Europe to stop criticizing Turkey
Russia hopes to host Syria talks in January
Roadside bomb kills 2 soldiers in Sinai
Reports: Jordan Pilot Ejected over Syria after 'Technical Failure'
Observatory: Regime Strikes Kill 52 Civilians in IS-Held Syrian Regions
Two 'Jihadists' Shot Dead at Cairo Checkpoint
IS Claims Iraq Suicide Bombing that Killed 38
Syrian regime kills 45 civilians in stepped-up raids
Pakistan forces kill facilitator of school attack
Afghan officials: NATO airstrike kills five civilians
Synagogue from Roman Empire unearthed
Swedish Protesters Denounce Mosque Arson Attack
Vatican arrests activist who bared chest in square
Third priest killed in dangerous southern Mexico
Houthi violations annull UN-sponsored deal: official

Jihad Watch Site Latest Posts
Lebanon: Muslim sheikh urges Muslims not to celebrate Christmas
Pope says Islam is religion of peace, then begs Muslims to condemn violence
UK: Muslim driver hits two pedestrians with his car, kills them
13-year-old girl: My father gave me to Boko Haram to be a suicide bomber
France: Conviction overturned of woman prosecuted for insulting Islam
Hamas-linked terror org CAIR inundated with fake Christmas cards
Christian priest: Thanks to Israel, I can have a Merry Christmas
Saudi women drivers referred to terrorism court
Pakistan agrees on new antiterrorism plan, pledges to “eradicate Taliban”
Mauritania sentences man to death for apostasy

Hizbullah Reiterates Support to Aoun for Presidency after Talks with al-Rahi
Naharnet/Hizbullah's politburo chief Sayyed Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed reiterated on Friday the party's support for Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun to reach the Baabda Palace after talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, which focused on the latest developments in Lebanon and the region. “Aoun is a competent person who is capable of playing a positive role if he was elected as a president and he can assume responsibilities amid the difficult situation” the country is passing through, al-Sayyed told reporters at Bkirki. The delegation met with al-Rahi to extend its greetings to him on the occasion of Christmas. Al-Sayyed revealed that talks with al-Rahi highlighted the presidential deadlock, saying: “The patriarch is sincere and wants to reach a happy ending regarding the presidential dead-end.”Lebanon's presidential crisis has spilled over into parliament, which has failed to hold legislative sessions to elect a new head of state. The Lebanese parliament is tasked by the constitution to select a president, a decision that has already been put off more than a dozen of times as the war in Syria continues to divide rival political blocs. The term of President Michel Suleiman ended in May. Hizbullah official said that the delegation also discussed with al-Rahi the latest developments in Lebanon and the region. “Despite the conflicts in the region and its impact on Lebanon, especially regarding the takfiris, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel,” al-Sayyed remarked, adding that Hizbullah “considers that there's a political solution for the conflict in Syria.”Asked about the dialogue with al-Mustaqbal Movement, the official described talks as “positive.”“Al-Rahi is optimistic and valued the dialogue path and encouraged it.”Al-Mustaqbal and Hizbullah held their first, long-awaited meeting in Ain al-Tineh on Tuesday evening under the auspices of Berri, in an attempt to devise a “roadmap” and a “mechanism” for the coming dialogue sessions between the two parties. Al-Sayyed stressed that ties between the party and al-Rahi will never be broken “even if we have different points of view.”

Zahle municipality revokes permit for controversial cement factory
Nizar Hassan/The Daily Star/Dec. 26, 2014/BEIRUT: The controversial cement factory being built in Zahle by the brother of MP Nicolas Fattoush will most probably not be completed, the city's mayor told The Daily Star Friday, saying that the municipality has revoked its construction permit after a public outcry against the project. “We made the decision to revoke the permit a week ago, and we have notified all the relevant authorities,” Zahle Mayor Joseph Maalouf told The Daily Star. The original decision to allow for the construction of the cement factory owned by businessman Pierre Fattoush was made on Oct. 31. But local citizens and influential politicians have since put pressure on the municipality to revoke its decision over environmental and health concerns. The mayor said that his decision to revoke the permit has reached Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan, who has a final say on the matter. Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea had warned Friday the Fattoush family against building the factory, saying the project would have a severely negative effect on the health of Zahle’s residents. Geagea called on Hajj Hasan to revoke the license and stop the plan. Zahle’s officials and lcoal leaders also expressed their opposition to the project Friday. Former Zahle MP Elias Skaff, who is Nicolas Fattoush’s political rival, is also against the construction of the factory, and held a demonstration last week against the plan. In a statement released Friday, Skaff thanked those who came out to the protest, and made special mention of Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, who he said helped organize the event. The controversial project started out as a local issue but received national attention about two weeks ago when more than a dozen gunmen loyal to Pierre Fattoush assaulted an Al-Jadeed reporter and a cameraman as they were wrapping up a report about the plant.On Friday, Al-Jadeed reported that one of the attackers was also behind the shooting of a man from the area of Shmestar, near Zahle. The report said the attacker, from the Khouri family, was one of three people who shot a man in his testicles and then kicked him after he fell to the floor. The victim is currently being hospitalized at AUBMC, and his condition is “extremely risky,” the report said.

3 Militants Killed as Army Thwarts Infiltration Attempt near Arsal
Naharnet /Three gunmen were killed overnight when the Lebanese army thwarted an attempt by militants to infiltrate an area on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal. The state-run National News Agency said Friday that one of the dead jihadists is a Syrian member of the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front. NNA identified him as Adham Shaddad. The fighters died when the army repelled their infiltration attempt in the area of Wadi al-Hosn, the agency added. The nearby border is long and porous, and has proved an easy crossing point for smugglers, refugees and fighters. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are being hosted in the town, and opposition fighters have bases in the mountainous border area outside Arsal. The town was overrun briefly in August by al-Nusra Front and Islamic State group jihadists coming from Syria, who withdrew after several days of fighting. They took with them some Lebanese policemen and soldiers as hostages, and have since executed four of them.

Lebanese Army kills 3 gunmen on Syria border
The Daily Star/Dec. 26, 2014/HERMEL, Lebanon: The Lebanese Army shot dead two militants in the northeastern border region near Arsal overnight, state-run National News Agency said Friday. It said among the fatalities was Adham Shedad, a Syrian militant from Nusra Front. A source in the town told The Daily Star that a group of gunmen tried to sneak into Lebanon from Syria near an Army checkpoint in Wadi Hmeid on the outskirts of Arsal, prompting troops to open fire. Media reports said soldiers stationed at the checkpoint engaged in clashes with the gunmen. The military has bolstered its presence along the border with Syria since the Army and jihadis from ISIS and the Nusra Front briefly overran Arsal in August, leading to a deadly, five-day battle. Soldiers have since come under repeated attacks in the region.

Observatory: Regime Strikes Kill 52 Civilians in IS-Held Syrian Regions
Naharnet /Syrian regime air strikes killed at least 52 civilians, including seven children, in strongholds of the Islamic State jihadist group, a monitoring group said Friday in a new toll. The raids struck al-Bab and Qbasin Thursday in the northern province of Aleppo, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground. Previously the toll had stood at 37 dead. "At least 52 civilians, including seven children, three teenagers and two women, were killed in the Syrian army air raids," said the Observatory, adding that dozens were seriously wounded. The regime air force has killed thousands of people since it was first deployed in the war in July 2012. Activists accuse the government of killing more civilians than jihadists in the raids. The U.N. and international rights groups have repeatedly called on the government to refrain from using its air force against inhabited areas. The country's multi-sided civil war has killed an estimated 200,000 people and displaced half of its population.
A U.S.-led military coalition is carrying out regular air strikes against the Islamic State group, which has seized large areas in Syria and neighboring Iraq. On Thursday, about 60 jihadists were killed in fighting with Kurdish forces for control of territory in northern Syria, according to the Observatory. Agence France Presse.

Hezbollah's Sayyed Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed says relations with Maronite church 'strong'
The Daily Star/Dec. 26, 2014
BEIRUT: Hezbollah and the Maronite church continue to foster strong relations, the party's politburo chief Sayyed Ibrahim Amin al-Sayyed said Friday. “The relationship between us is [very strong], and it is our duty to discuss and exchange views even if we differed on certain matters,” Sayyed said, denying any estrangement between Hezbollah and the Maronite church. His comments came at the end of a Hezbollah delegation visit to Bkirki to congratulate Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai on Christmas. The Hezbollah official said he briefed the patriarch on the dialogue which kicked off last week between Hezbollah and its rival the Future Movement in a bid to ease sectarian tensions in the country. “The party believes that there is a glimmer for Lebanon at the end of the dark tunnel, despite the big crises sweeping the region and reflecting on Lebanon, especially terrorist threats,” Sayyed added. He also affirmed that Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun remained Hezbollah’s sole candidate for president. “We back the candidature of Gen. Michel Aoun because we trust he is a capable person and can assume such a responsibility in the current situation,” Sayyed said.

Sheikh Hussam al-Ilani, the imam at Ghufran Mosque in Sidon urges Muslims not to buy children Christmas presents
The Daily Star/Dec. 25, 2014 /BEIRUT: Muslims must understand that Christmas and New Year’s Eve are exclusively Christian holidays, a south Lebanon sheikh said Thursday, urging Muslim parents to resist temptations and pressure to buy their children Christmas gifts. “Some Muslims make a mistake by erecting a Christmas tree in their homes and dressing up their children in ‘Santa Claus’ outfits,” Sheikh Hussam al-Ilani, the imam at Ghufran Mosque in Sidon, said in a Christmas day statement.“They even take it further by visiting the toy store and buying gifts and asking the shop’s owner to send ‘Santa Claus’ to their homes to give the gifts to their children,” he added, making a point of writing "Santa Claus" inside quotes.Those parents believe that celebrating Christmas is a way of achieving national unity, he added, but they are wrong.“Christmas and New Year's are for Christians and not Muslims,” Ilani insisted. “This is not extremism. It’s what all Muslims and Christians must know and understand.”

Lebanon's anti-Christmas sheikh sparks online ridicule
The Daily Star/Dec. 26, 2014
BEIRUT: A statement released by a south Lebanon sheikh urging Muslims not to observe Christmas celebrations has sparked an avalanche of online ridicule. Sheikh Husssam al-Ilani called on Muslims Thursday to understand that Christmas and New Year’s Eve are exclusively Christian holidays, urging Muslim parents not to buy their children Christmas gifts. The sheikh said the Muslims erecting Christmas trees were making a “mistake,” and that their actions were not helping achieve national unity. Hundreds of Internet users responded to the Sidon sheikh's message with a mix of sarcasm and anger. "There is a place for people like this Sheikh. Its called Islamic State AKA Hell," wrote one Twitter user with the handle @rizkrawad. “This article is hilarious,” Hrag Vartanian wrote on The Daily Star Facebook page under the posted story. “I kind of want to send the imam a Xmas present. I just might ...” Most Muslim users said the sheikh did not represent their views, with many urging him to leave the country. “I am from the south of Lebanon, this person or mad man does not define us,” wrote Fadia Hammoud. “Since my youngest age we celebrate xmass and easter and I still do with my kids.”  Another Facebook commenter, Sami Taleb, wrote, “This Muslim tells the Shaikh: Lighten up!” referring to himself.
Christian users also slammed Ilani’s message, accusing him of trying to create divisions. Several people said his call would be like a priest asking Christians not to enjoy an iftar meal with their Muslim friends during Ramadan. “We have always celebrated holidays together Mr Sheikh, and this is what makes us proud as Lebanese, if you dislike it, just move elsewhere,” Charles Manih wrote. Joe Challita echoed Manih's statement, saying all his Muslim friends have Christmas trees and celebrate Christmas. “That’s what makes Lebanon unique through our coexistence, open mindedness and the democracy to do as you wish!” For some, the sheikh's words were not surprising. “Yea that's why I left religion, cuz of people like you,” Fatima Sadek said in response to someone defending Ilani. “Seriously you leave all the problems of the world and you focus on the silliest of things."“This sheikh can leave the country if he does not like how people celebrate the holidays.”

Geagea warns Fattoush against constructing Zahle cement plant
The Daily Star/Dec. 26, 2014
BEIRUT: Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea Friday warned businessman Pierre Fattoush, brother of MP Nicolas Fattoush, against building a cement plant in the eastern city of Zahle, saying the factory would pose a danger to public health. “The plant will undoubtedly pose a significant threat to the city and its environs both at the environmental and health levels with the incidence of cancer and pulmonary diseases possibly to increase,” Geagea told a news conference. “The entry of a large number of trucks each day could also lead to pollution in the city,” he stressed. Geagea threw his weight behind Zahle residents who have voiced their opposition to the construction of the plant. The LF leader urged Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan to withdraw the license for building the plant. “Pierre Fattoush’s project has adverse health effects and Zahle residents are against it and we cannot but stand with them.”“We have heard threats,” Geagea said. “I hope those issuing threats would stop doing so and remain within the law.”Less than two weeks ago, more than a dozen gunmen loyal to Pierre Fattoush assaulted an Al-Jadeed reporter and a cameraman as they were wrapping up a report about the controversial plant. The project has been criticized by Zahle residents as well as local officials, including former Zahle MP Elias Skaff, Nicolas Fattoush's key political foe. Geagea said the LF has formed a “legal team” to challenge the plant's construction, adding that a civil body drawn from locals from Zahle would also be established to “to initiate popular action.”“We will not stop until the project stops and I will hold contacts to facilitate halting the project,” Geagea promised.

Al-Rahi to Support Any Presidential Candidate if Rivals Agree
Naharnet/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi reportedly blesses any meeting that would gather Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea to bridge the gap. “We don't oppose the election of Aoun as a president... I support him, but he has to head to the parliament and convince lawmakers of voting for him,” al-Rahi was quoted as saying by sources in comments published in the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat on Friday. Al-Rahi stressed that his only interest is to end the presidential vacuum, pointing out that he will only be an observer to analyze the much-expected dialogue between the two Christian foes. “I have called on the (four) Maronite leaders to meet but there's difficulty in gathering them under one ceiling to agree on a candidate,” sources quoted al-Rahi as saying, reiterating calls on lawmakers to attend a parliamentary session set to elect a new head of state. “It's a shame that they have met to extend their (parliamentary) term but refuse to meet to elect a new president.” Lebanon's presidential crisis has spilled over into parliament, which has failed to hold legislative sessions to elect a new head of state. The Lebanese parliament is tasked by the constitution to select a president, a decision that has already been put off more than a dozen of times as the war in Syria continues to divide rival political blocs. The term of President Michel Suleiman ended in May. According to the sources, Aoun will propose an initiative during his meeting with Geagea, which is expected to kick off at the beginning of the new year.  Both Aoun and Geagea have announced their candidacies for the presidency. Their rivalry and the failure of the different parties to agree on a compromise candidate caused the vacuum at the presidential palace.

Hezbollah urges ‘sincere efforts’ for Lebanon peace
The Daily Star/Dec. 26, 2014 /BEIRUT: Hezbollah has urged various Lebanese leaders to make sincere efforts to restore normal political life, promote peace and stability, and bolster the country in the fight against terrorism. A statement from Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc said the coalition “stresses on all Lebanese the need to multiply efforts and continue to make sincere and serious efforts to contribute to an atmosphere of understanding and convergence in order to restore normal political life to finalize the presidential election and revive the work of constitutional institutions, as well as promote peace and stability and reinforce sovereignty against the Zionist and takfiri terrorism and achieve the best interests of citizens, protect their rights and improve the situation of the country at different levels and in all sectors.”
The statement, published on Christmas Day, also wished "the Lebanese in general and Christians in particular sincere blessings.”The Loyalty to The Resistance bloc also expressed hope that the situation in Lebanon and the region would improve.

Aoun, Geagea meeting achievable: Kanaan
The Daily Star/Dec. 26, 2014
BEIRUT: A meeting between Lebanon’s rival Christian leaders Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun is now achievable, MP Ibrahim Kanaan said. “The bilateral meeting between the two men has become possible, even though no date has yet been set,” said Kanaan, from Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement. "There is a communication channel with the Lebanese Forces in pursuit of a common vision about the core issues regarding the stalled presidential election and the general situation in Lebanon,” Kanaan told a local radio station.
“Whatever the differences and rivalries between the Christian parties, it is important not to wrangle over constitutional rights." Kanaan said the FPM hoped to reach a “joint work ground to organize the relations, given that the Lebanese Forces and the FPM enjoy the largest Christian representation with different proportions.” The two parties are working on holding a meeting between Geagea and Aoun in a bid to end the presidential impasse, now in its seventh month. Geagea is the March 14 coalition's candidate for president, while the rival March 8 bloc is supporting Aoun's candidacy. Neither of them are thought to be able to garner a majority in Parliament, though a boycott by Aoun and his allies in Hezbollah have blocked all presidential elections sessions except the first.

ISIS capture of Jordanian pilot puts US and Jordan in conflicting dilemmas, may be pivotal to anti-terror war
DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis December 25, 2014
The US military is going to great lengths to deny any evidence that ISIS shot down the Jordanian Air Force F-16 which came down Wednesday, Dec. 24 over the northern Syrian town of Raqaa. First Lieutenant Muath al-Kasaesbeh, aged 27, was the first Arab pilot to be taken prisoner by the Islamic State. The US Central Command statement said: “We can say with certainty that it was an aircraft crash and the plane was not downed by ISIL as was claimed by the terrorist organization.” This contradicted an earlier statement by the Jordanian Information Minister Mohammad Momani that the plane had crashed after being hit by a ground-air missile. debkafile’s military and intelligence sources add that Middle East military and aviation control centers are quite sure that the Jordanian warplane was hit by an ISIS missile, while making low passes over the terrorist organization’s Syrian headquarters at Raqqa in violation of the pilot’s orders. The Jordanians are making intense efforts to deter the jihadis from harming 1st Lt. Kasaesbeh.The Hashemite Kingdom’s armed forces warned that “IS and its supporters would be held responsible for the pilot’s safety and his life.”
The pilot belongs to the Bedouin tribe of Bararsha near Kerak in southern Jordan, which boasts several army generals. They and the tribal chiefs are bringing all their influence to bear to obtain his release. American military is joining the effort to save the Jordanian pilot – from different motives, which are geared more to sustaining the goals and tactics pursued by the US and the coalition in the war on the Islamic State. Thursday, Central Command chief Gen. Lloyd J. Austin, who is in charge of US and coalition operations in Iraq and Syria, released a long communiqué praising Jordan for its military actions in the battle, adding: “We will not tolerate ISIL’s attempts to misrepresent or exploit this unfortunate aircraft crash for its own purposes.”
The US general’s message was designed to reassure Jordanian Air Force pilots and dissuade them from dropping out of the coalition air campaign for fear of being shot down by an ISIS missile. The three other Arab coalition members, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, must also be kept from quitting. The share of the four Arab air forces in the war is too weighty to forfeit.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi has not doubt calculated his stake in keeping the Jordanian pilot alive and at risk to scare fellow Arab pilots from continuing to take part in US-led bombing missions against his forces. Furthermore, the Bararsha, like other South Jordanian Bedouin tribes, is known around the region for producing fierce fighters and their relentless pursuit of blood revenge.
Al Baghdadi may opt to avoid antagonizing them for this reason, as well as in the hope of a tangible benefit: ISIS is already using the smuggling routes of southern Jordan as channels to the groups his organization has planted in Sinai, Egypt and eastern Libya. He may decide to go one better and build an alliance with those very tribes behind the backs of the Americans and Jordan’s Abdullah II.
Such an eventuality would add a new dimension to the war on the Islamist terrorists.

Christian priest: Thanks to Israel, I can have a Merry Christmas
December 25, 2014
By Robert Spencer/Jihad Watch
A message of truth going out to a world drowning in lies. “Thanks to Israel, I Can Have a Merry Christmas,” by Father Gabriel Nadaf  (translated by Avi Woolf),, December 24, 2014:
Right now, while Christians the world over are celebrating Christmas, entire communities of the followers of Christ cannot rejoice. The Middle East and parts of Africa continue to drown in rivers of blood, with various minorities being targeted by radical Islamic organizations such as ISIS, Hamas, Jabhat al-Nusra, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and others.
The Christians there are stuck in the middle of a maelstrom of genocide and ethnic cleansing occurring on a daily basis through horrific acts of rape, crucifixion, theft, expulsion, destruction, burning of churches, forced conversions, abduction of nuns and the murder of priests, children, women and the elderly. Sometimes the murderers slaughter whole families, sometimes they murder some in front of the rest and then let the others live with the nightmare. People who can flee to the west, and those who can’t leave or who wih to remain must live with the danger.
The Middle East is effectively being cleansed of Christians. In the beginning of the 20th century, Christians constituted some 20% of the population in the region. Today, it’s 4% and falling. 77% of Iraq’s Christians have fled since 2000, in addition to the thousands who were murdered or forcibly expelled. 450,000 Christians have fled Syria since the civil war began in 2011, for fear they would share the same fate.
Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, had a clear Christian majority. Since 1995, when Israel handed the city to the Palestinian Authority, Christians have been leaving in droves. Today, Christians are only 15% of the population, some say it’s even less. Elsewhere in Palestinian-run areas, Christians are also leaving, and in Hamas-run Gaza, the situation is even worse.
Middle Eastern Christians are not just targets for abuse and murder, but are also regularly treated as second class citizens and coping with racism and religious, economic and social discrimination. All because they adhere to Christianity, which espouses peace and goodwill to all mankind.
This bears repeating again and again: Christians in Arab countries live on the margins, without rights, with their property stolen, their honor trampled, their children sacrificed and the slaughter ongoing.
A safe haven in Israel
Within this chaos, only one island of sanity can be found where the Christians are not persecuted, where they enjoy freedom of religion and ritual, freedom of expression, and where they can live in peace without fear of genocide. That island is the State of Israel. The state in which I and my Christian brothers were born allows Christians complete freedom. Jews and Christians live in Israel in peace and as good neighbors. This is not just because Jesus was born in Jewish Bethlehem and was born a Jew, but because Christians and Jews share a common heritage and a shared hope for a peaceful coexistence.
Israeli Christians are an inseparable part of the population’s fabric, and as its citizens they may elect and be elected to its parliament and local municipalities, rights they use regularly. As a demographic group, they are the most educated community in Israel, are integrated in the legal system as lawyers and judges, serve as officers in the police and the IDF, and occupy various positions in government offices and institutions. You can find many of them as students and faculty in universities, in the health system, on sports teams, in culture, and throughout the private sector. The churches, monasteries, and Christian sites are preserved and run by the various churches entirely freely.
Middle Eastern Christians were always taught that the Arab nation is as one, made up of Muslims and Christians: “We are brothers with a common enemy – the State of Israel,” so they told us. But in recent years, Christians have woken up from the lie which accompanied them for decades, encountering instead a reality of discrimination, persecution and death. This reality has brought Christians in the State of Israel to search for our true identity and return to our authentic roots, before the Arabs and Islam came to the region.
We, the Christians of the State of Israel and the Middle East, are not Arabs, but Arameans in our heart and soul. Jesus Christ spoke Aramaic, one can find Aramaic Holy Books in Middle Eastern churches and before the Muslims invaded, most of the Middle Eastern Christians spoke Aramaic.
This year, the State of Israel recognized the Aramean nation in the population registrar, and is in fact the first state in modern history to recognize this nation, thus allowing Christians to return to their historic identity which was blurred in the Middle East with a nation not their own over the centuries. Unfortunately, the world is not aware of this fact and does not thank the State of Israel which protects Christians and allows them a life of freedom. To the contrary, many in the international community have chosen through ignorance, anti-semitism and incorrect information to criticize Israel with the clear intent of harming and weakening it.
And the world is silent
A few months ago, I held a number of meetings with senior officials from the European Parliament and at the European Commission in Brussels. When I told them about the freedom of Christians in Israel, I was shocked to learn that some of them knew nothing about this, and some even admitted that this was the first time that they had received such information on Christians in Israel. The reason for this is that the information that does reach the European Commission on a regular basis is partial and distorted, portraying Israel as a persecutor of Christians.
To me, this is a double crime. Those who choose to lie and distort information passed on to the media, the political establishment or the authorities while hiding the truth and with the sole purpose of hurting the State of Israel for political motives, thus gives aid to extreme elements which strive to destroy the Jews, Christians, Druze, Yezidis and other minorities. Through this illegitimate method, the international community contributes to the worsening of the already difficult humanitarian situation in the Middle East and also bears the responsibility for the situation which forces Christians from their homes. It is time that the world woke up, looked reality in the eye and understood the evil which strives to destroy the Jewish and democratic State of Israel.
The world is trying to weaken Israel and make it easy prey for terrorism. By doing so, they pass a death sentence on Christians in the Middle East and the Holy Land, where Jesus Christ our Lord was born. NGOs and pseudo-Christian organizations, which have not yet freed themselves of the old anti-semitism, who are not familiar with the history of the Holy Land and who disgrace Christianity, act in Israel and the Palestinian Authority and receive millions of Euros from EU countries and institutions.
These organizations adopt a clear anti-Israel policy, sometimes under the cover of “social” and “human rights” activity but with the clear political aim of harming the State of Israel. The results of this activity both directly and indirectly harm the rights of Israeli Christians, who wish to integrate into Israeli society, and harming the delicate fabric of relationships between communities in the State.
Just a few days ago, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) published a report on human rights in Israel in 2014. The report is slanted, manipulative and dangerous. This report, which contains chapters on “Arab minority rights”, “Freedom of Expression” and “Harming of Freedom of Expression During Protective Edge” completely ignores the issue of Christians striving for full integration and which represent true coexistence. The report does not refer once to the Arab incitement, persecution and violence, the attempts to silence us, the intolerance and attempts to harm our freedom of religion and ritual. These have been a regular occurrence over the past two years, including explicit calls for my murder and the murder of my friends from the Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum.
The only mention of Christians in this manipulative report is the investigation of a citizen, who as part of an ongoing campaign of incitement published a picture of Recruitment Forum members on his facebook page along with a veiled threat. This is tagged by the report authors as an example of “policing” the internet and harming free speech. This report, which completely ignores our situation, exposes the bias of the ACRI towards anything which doesn’t fit their political agenda. It is a good example of how EU-funded organizations actually harm the rights of Jews and non-Jews in the State of Israel.
The international community must understand that if the Reaper’s scythe reaches the Land of Israel, then no Christians will remain in the birthplace of Christianity. There will no longer be a living basis for the Faith of Christ. Only by standing alongside Israel and understanding that ensuring its Jewish identity will ensure its democratic regime will ensure the continuing flowering of the Christian community here, which looks fated to be the last remnant of Christianity in the Middle East.
**Father Gabriel Nadaf is the spiritual father of the Aramean Christian community and the Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum.

Turkey frees schoolboy arrested for 'insulting' Erdogan
Agence France Presse/Dec. 26, 2014
ANKARA: A Turkish court Friday ordered the release of a 16-year-old high school pupil arrested for "insulting" President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, following accusations his detention was the latest sign of the country veering to authoritarianism. The boy, Mehmet Emin Altunses, was released following a complaint by his lawyer over his arrest in the central city of Konya. He was met by his parents as he left the main courthouse building in the city but defiantly declared his political activism would continue, the CNN-Turk channel reported.
"There is no question of taking a step back from our path, we will continue along this road," he said as he was released. Altunses had delivered a speech on Wednesday in Konya, a bastion of the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), where he accused Erdogan and the ruling party of corruption. The boy, who was arrested by police at school, during questioning denied links with a political party but confirmed he had made the statements in question. Altunses had accused Erdogan of being the "chief of theft, bribery and corruption." Despite his release, he still remains accused of insulting Erdogan and faces trial at a date yet to be specified. He risks up to four years in prison if convicted. The boy's lawyer, Baris Ispir, had submitted a petition for his release to the court, together with around 100 colleagues who came from Istanbul in a show of support. His legal team had also pointed out that accusations against Erdogan and his inner circle have been circulating for months on social media without any action being taken.
The boy's mother, an unemployed cook, expressed shock over the arrest, saying he had been detained "as if he were an armed terrorist."
"He is only a boy, his place is in school and not the prison," Nazmiye Gok told the Hurriyet daily. His arrest came amid growing concerns about freedom of speech in Turkey under Erdogan following raids earlier this month on opposition media linked to the president's top foe, exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had supported the court's original decision to arrest the boy, saying: "Everyone must respect the office of president whoever he is." Sezgin Tanrikulu, vice president of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), wrote on Twitter that the release would do nothing to change "the miserable situation in which our democracy finds itself." The authorities are hugely sensitive to allegations of corruption following sensational claims against key government members and Erdogan's inner circle that broke in December last year. Four cabinet ministers resigned but Erdogan accused the U.S.-based Gulen of concocting the graft scandal and spreading leaks in social media to topple his government. Erdogan has vowed no mercy in the fight against Gulen and the authorities have over the last year effectively purged the police force and judiciary to rid them of pro-Gulenist elements. Thirty police, journalists and scriptwriters were arrested earlier this month in the latest of a string of raids that have provoked a major rift with the European Union, which Turkey hopes one day to join. A court also issued an arrest warrant for Gulen himself although there appears for now little chance of his extradition from the U.S

Third priest killed in dangerous southern Mexico
Mark Stevenson/ Associated Press/26.12.14
MEXICO CITY: A priest was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head, his diocese said Friday, marking the latest in series of abductions, attacks and highway robberies against Roman Catholic clerics in an area of southern Guerrero state dominated by drug cartels.
Rev. Gregorio Lopez Gorostieta is the third Catholic priest to have been killed in the region this year, and the first to die since the federal government launched a special, stepped-up security operation in the area following the disappearance of 43 teachers' college students three months ago.
The motive in Lopez Gorostieta's killing remains unclear; Bishop Maximino Martinez said a group had been seen lurking around the seminary where the priest taught on the outskirts of Ciudad Altamirano, Guerrero, on Sunday and Monday. Lopez Gorostieta was apparently kidnapped by the gang early Monday; his truck was found abandoned two days later.
"This is another priest added to those who have died for their love of Christ," Bishop Martinez said. "Enough already of so much pain, of so many murders. Enough already of so much crime. Enough extortions."
That was an apparent reference to the "protection payments" that the local drug gang, the Knights Templar, demand from business owners in Ciudad Altamirano. One business owner, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, said his family had been forced to pay thousands of pesos (dollars) each year to the gang for the right to operate a pharmacy.
While the Rev. Jesus Mendoza Zaragoza said gangs have also demanded protection payments from parish priests in the nearby resort city of Acapulco, Lopez Gorostieta didn't have a parish or collect tithes.
But Bishop Martinez said there could be other motives: Priests have received threats when they refuse to perform quickie marriages or baptisms for drug gang members. The church normally requires extensive paperwork before performing such ceremonies.
"At times, if they ask for a baptism and you don't do it, they start to threaten you," Martinez said. "They want a marriage, or a blessing" for a car or a home, he said, and won't take "no" for an answer.
The Mexican Council of Bishops issued a statement saying "we demand authorities clear up this and so many other crimes that have caused pain in so many homes, and ensure that it is punished."
But Mendoza Zaragoza said there appears to be little likelihood authorities will find the killers, because they haven't done so in past cases. "The government offers to investigate, but nothing is ever known," he said referring to the other recent killing of a priest in the Altamirano diocese.
In September, the battered body of the Rev. Ascension Acuna Osorio was found floating in the Balsas river near his parish of San Miguel Totolapan, near Ciudad Altamirano. Guerrero state prosecutors said the priest's body had head wounds, but it was unclear whether they were caused by the body being dragged by the current, or whether he had been killed before being dumped in the river. Martinez said authorities never offered more information on the investigation into his death.
Residents of San Miguel Totolapan told reporters that Acuna Osorio was well liked in the town, but they were afraid to speak more about his death, or the gang that operates in the area. The town is an area dominated by the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, which has been implicated in the mass killing of 43 students in September in the nearby city of Iguala.
The area is so dangerous that Martinez said one priest had been briefly kidnapped in the mountains above San Miguel Totolapan by cartel gunmen who complained the priest had been speaking in favor of "La Familia" - the name of a rival drug cartel.
The priest had to quickly explain he had been preaching in favor of family values, not the rival cartel.
Nor have authorities cleared up the killing of a Ugandan priest whose body was found in a clandestine grave in a nearby Guerrero diocese in November.
Father John Ssenyondo, 55, had been kidnapped about six months earlier. His body was later identified as one of 13 found in a clandestine grave discovered Nov. 2 in the town of Ocotitlan.
Ssenyondo, a member of the Combonian order, was abducted April 30 in the town of Santa Cruz after celebrating Mass, when a group of people in an SUV intercepted his car.
Several priests have also been victims of highway assaults in Guerrero in recent months that appear to be attempted robberies.
Church officials also believe three abductions of church workers in March may have been intended to discourage priests from leading protests against rampant violence. The three were released unharmed.
The Catholic Multimedia Center, a church group, reports that eight priests were killed in the past two years in Mexico - now nine including Lopez Gorostieta's death - and that two priests remain missing.

Thawing U.S. ties: Cuba today, Iran tomorrow?
Friday, 26 December 2014
Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiya
American back channel diplomacy has led to the transformation of relationships between Cuba and Washington and a diplomatic deal between the Obama administration and Raul Castro’s government which is indeed historic.
After almost 53 years of Cold War between the U.S. and Cuba, the transformation of ties between these two adversaries has sparked a considerable amount of debate with respect to the normalization of ties with other longstanding rivals. The possibility of resolving other diplomatic imbroglios, specifically the revival of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Iran is a case that comes to mind.
ns showed their excitement on Twitter with regards to the Cuban deal. Some showed hope that their government will be next and they could soon see an American embassy in Tehran. However, others thought that an Iran-U.S. deal is an idealistic and unreachable dream.
Indeed, any normalization of diplomatic relationships between the Islamic Republic and the U.S. will likely have significant positive impacts on both nations, leading to a critical strategic and geopolitical shift in the Middle Eastern political chessboard. Currently, both countries have some shared strategic and geopolitical objectives in Iraq and Syria particularly when it comes to fighting ISIS.
A possible Iranian deal will remove the economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic, assisting Tehran to achieve its highest economic potential in exports, imports and wealth. The tourist industry would be revived in Iran, with many European and Americans fond of visiting thousands of years old historical sites in Esfahan Shiraz, Hamadan, and other provinces. Normalization of diplomatic ties will lead to the flow of (primarily) European companies to do business with the Islamic Republic. In addition, as Iranian youth have shown to be in favor of American brands and products, American manufactures will find a share in Iran’s market as well. Further, U.S. airplane companies will begin cooperation with Iranian airlines.
As many people are pondering on the likelihood of a deal similar to the recent Cuba agreement with Iran, the question is whether the executive order to lift the embargo on the Islamic Republic and conducting back channel diplomacy to fully open ties with Tehran is possible?
Iran’s file is more complicated and multilayered
There are some partial similarities between the Obama administration’s method to initiate a deal with Raul Castro’s government and the way it has recently approached the Islamic Republic. The major commonalities are the back channel diplomacy and talks.
Similar to the Cuban deal, the Obama administration has conducted back channel talks with Iranian politicians with respect to Iran’s nuclear program. In addition, President Obama sent a clandestine letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei highlighting some of the shared strategic, national and geopolitical interests that both nations have in the Middle East.
Nevertheless, these commonalities in diplomatic approaches have led some scholars, politicians, and policy analysts to jump to the conclusion that the same deal should be applicable to the case of Iran because such an approach was possible with Cuba and the embargo on Cuba was lifted.
But, not too fast.
Iran’s file is much more complicated, multifaceted and multilayered than the Cuban case. While Cuba is a small island close to the state of Florida with a population of approximately 11 million, Iran, with a population of over 80 million, is located in the complex geopolitical chessboard of the Middle East, and entangled among mixture of alliances and enmities in the oil rich region.
Second of all, from Washington’s perspective, Cuba has hardly been a serious threat to American strategic, geopolitical, or economic interests. On the other hand, the Islamic Republic has been a major player in scuttling U.S. foreign policy objectives and opposing its allies (including Israel) in the Middle East.
“Unlike Castro, Khamenei has shown no interest in fully normalizing diplomatic ties with the United States”
Third, several crucial regional developments are viewed from the prism of a zero-sum game for both Iranian and American officials. Iranian leaders are less likely to accept any compromises on their top foreign policy priorities, such as: keeping President Bashar al-Assad in power, withdrawing its financial, advisory, intelligence, and military support to the Iraqi and Syrian government, and assisting formidable proxies such as Hezbollah.
Fourth, there was no international consensus on the U.S. embargo and economic sanctions against the Cuban government. As a result, President Obama can issue an executive order to lift the embargo. Many European countries were doing business with the Cuban government and the United Nations repeatedly condemned U.S. sanctions. On the other hand, the four rounds of economic sanctions on Tehran came with the approval of the U.N. Security Council. Unlike Cuba, many regional and global powers are dubious about Iran’s nuclear and regional hegemonic ambitions.
Fifth, several developments in Iran, such as revelations of clandestine nuclear sites, the possibility of testing exploding detonators for nuclear weapons in Parchin military site, and the military dimension of Tehran’s nuclear program, have led to regional and international strain.
Finally, and more fundamentally, unlike Castro, Khamenei has shown no interest in fully normalizing diplomatic ties with the United States. For example, the Obama administration received no positive response from Khamenei through its diplomacy. In addition, there is no official public debate among Iranian politicians, across various spectrums of Iran’s political system, of even allowing the opening of an American embassy in Tehran. The U.S. domestic opposition to normalize ties with Iran, particularly from the Republicans, is much higher in comparison to the Cuban case. Although the Obama administration has taken some back channel steps to negotiate with the Islamic Republic, Iran’s supreme leader has not responded with signs of willingness to normalize relationships and he has been clear in not trusting the “Great Satan. “
The signal that Iranian leaders received from the Cuban deal is not what the Western media depicts- that Iran is optimistic about normalizing ties with the U.S.. The message that Tehran received was that the Islamic Republic has to persist in its policies and that economic sanctions will ultimately fail. As foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Akfham articulated: “The defense by the Cuban government and people of their revolutionary ideals over the past 50 years shows that policies of isolation and sanctions imposed by the major powers against the wishes of independent nations are ineffective.”

As ISIS holds its pilot prisoner, what can Jordan do?
Friday, 26 December 2014
Raed Omari /Al Arabiya
The anti-ISIS alliance member Jordan is not in an enviable situation. One of the kingdom’s F16 pilots, Maaz al-Kassasbeh, is now a prisoner of radical militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. It is the worst-case scenario participation in the U.S.-led war against ISIS could have brought about. To be at the forefront of the anti-terror efforts and to have reasons for second thoughts is the real challenge Jordan is facing today.
ISIS’s capture of the pilot following the crash of the 26-year-old’s F16 warplane in northern Syria brings into spotlight many challenging questions on what Jordan can do to ensure the release of its pilot and also on the nature of the Jordan-ISIS relationship considering Jordan’s leading role in the anti-terror war which is now a major pillar in Amman’s foreign and domestic policy.
Whilst silence, uncertainty and sadness are the major feelings prevailing in Jordanian society over the capture of Maaz al-Kassasbeh, “our brave Maaz”, amidst call by the government on media outlets to deal with the issue with complete responsibility and secrecy, there is a now talk of a prisoner swap with ISIS as the only possible way for Jordan to ensure the release of al-Kassasbeh.
“Jordan can resort to prisoner swaps with ISIS”
Fully aware of what it means to be a prisoner of ISIS, all Jordanians now pray for the safety of al-Kassasbeh; all including those very few who believe in the alluring “Caliphate” of ISIS. In a message of appeal to ISIS, Maaz’s father, Yusuf al-Kassasbeh, called on ISIS to treat his son decently. The aggrieved father also urged Jordanian King Abdullah to do his best to save his 26-year-old son. Yusuf was said to have received a phone call from the Jordanian army telling him: “We are currently working to save [your son’s] life. The king is concerned to save his life.”
Tremendous efforts
No doubt, tremendous efforts are being exerted now by the Jordanian authorities to ensure the release of al-Kassasbeh. They are probably in the form of intelligence more than diplomatic efforts, needless to mention why. With nothing being said about the nature of such efforts, a prisoner swap with ISIS could be Jordan’s best way to bring al-Kassasbeh back home. In my opinion, such a move would not be that embarrassing to Jordan although it is an active member in the U.S.-led anti-ISIS alliance.
Yes, Jordan can resort to prisoner swaps with ISIS. Turkey has done it before to ensure the release of 49 Turkish consular stuff that ISIS captured when it overran the Iraqi city of Mosul in June in exchange for 180 captured militants. Although the Turkish membership in the anti-ISIS coalition is nothing to compare with the overt Jordanian participation, it can be an option. Turkey is perhaps still a supporting member and Jordan can be too. There are voices in Jordan now advising the government to seek regional mediation with ISIS over the release of al-Kassasbeh, citing similar mediating efforts with ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.
Certain names
But who are those prisoners that Jordan can free in exchange for its pilot? There are certain names that are mentioned whenever there is a talk about a possible prisoner swap with ISIS, including Sajida al-Rishawi, the Iraqi woman who was captured in connection with a failed suicide bombing of one of the hotels of Amman in 2005. ISIS might request the release of Sajida if ISIS is indeed originated from the remnants of the al-Qaeda in Iraq group to which al-Rishawi was supposedly affiliated. Other names mentioned are the jailed militant Ziad Raja al-Karbouli (aka Abu Houthiyfah), who was accused in 2007 of leading a group of militants in plotting attacks on trucks with Jordanian license plates on Iraqi roads, although he denies this. Another name mentioned is Jordanian Muammar al-Jaghbir, who was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of a U.S. diplomat, but whose sentence was then commuted to 15 years.
Within the context of the Jordanian hostage crisis, there is also a talk about a military operation being prepared by the Jordanian commandos to free Maaz al-Kassasbeh. News reports are being cited in such talk. However, similar U.S. Special Forces operations have failed in Yemen, Syria and Somalia to free American prisoners from ISIS and al-Qaeda.
All in all, the situation in Jordan is no doubt difficult again with regard to the kingdom’s membership in the anti-ISIS coalition and its leading role in the war against terror. However, Jordan can resort to prisoner swap with ISIS if such can guarantee the safety of Maaz al-Kassasbeh. In doing so, Jordan can respond to growing voices in the kingdom questioning their country’s participation in “Washington’s war” against ISIS.

Bashar al-Assad’s dogma of survival
Friday, 26 December 2014
Dr. Halla Diyab /Al Arabiya
More than three years have passed since the Syrian conflict erupted, with the death toll surpassing 191,000, including women and children. Syria is constantly changing into a divided state, with different areas under the control of various armed factions, including the terrorists ISIS. Throughout this, there is only one unchanging fact; Bashar al-Assad is still in power. With his uncompromised grip on the power, Assad seems to have proven his reliability not only as a ruthless autocrat, but also as a very stubborn man.
The Syrian opposition has been criticized and accused as being totally controlled by its hatred of Assad, changing him into a national symbol of public hatred by channeling the Syrians’ frustration and feelings of injustice towards Assad. The Syrian political narratives have been personalized, leading Syria to be caught in a vicious circle of blame and passive aggression. While Syrians remain divided, and the opportunity for a national Syrian reconciliation seems bleak, Assad has enough reason to be confident that he will stay in power at least for some time to come.
“The longer the conflict drags on, the more people’s appetite for political change will die out”
Although Syria still occupies world attention, it is isolated and stuck within Assad’s political narrative dynamics. Assad has tightened the rope around Syria’s belly, campaigning that he is gripping on to power because he cannot abandon Syria while it is at war. He is, however, totally ignoring the fact that he chose to go to war to stay in power. Choosing war over resignation has played to Assad’s advantage and to the survival of his regime; the longer the conflict drags on, the more people’s appetite for political change will die out, the opposition forces will be drained out, Syrians will be divided and national unity will gradually be destroyed.
Military option
In 2011, Assad favored the military option to a peaceful political transition that could have saved thousands of lives and the gruesome bloodshed. Assad gradually internalized the idea he manufactured; that he is defending Syria and reserving the legacy of Syria which his father, Hafez al-Assad, sculpted. He also thinks by stepping down he will lose face as a self-proclaimed anti-imperialist leader across the Middle East region.
So, where does Syria go from here? How can Syria break free from this vicious cycle and rise from the ashes? There is a simple answer to this but it seems a change in attitude is urgently required. The Syrians need to depart from oedipal phases and a fixation of reliance and dependence on any sort of authority to provide security, food, electricity and all necessities of survival. Assad’s dynasty has been feeding this fixation through free medical care, free education, security-state, tax-free wages as a tactic to maintain people’s reliance on the state. Assad has gradually transformed Syrians into compulsive dependent adult- juveniles. They renewed their allegiance to Assad because they are satisfied with their comfort zone; where all their survival necessities are provided by the authority as long as they give in to that central authority.
Fixation with authority
The Syrian uprising was a shock not only to Assad but also to those among the Syrians who were content with the status quo that nourished their fixation with authority. Considering Syria’s national average wage, unless you are one of Assad’s inner circle or are supported by a relative working outside Syria, you cannot survive with whatever you save, it seems. I do not believe this is a coincidence, but rather part of Assad’s plan to tighten the grip around Syrians.
Assad enhanced certain personality traits to stop people from breaking free from the chains of a dependent relationship with authorities. People gradually internalize the myth of the “people’s incapability” which the regime feeds on to sustain power. The masses have been trained and accustomed to trust the regime’s choice of who is capable to lead, and who is not, who should be involved in politics, and who should not. Subsequently, those in power gain assured legitimacy.
Since the uprising, Syrians have been regressed to victims, and the people’s impulse for change has been hampered by agony, hunger, displacement, escape and loss. The message Assad aims to convey to Syrians is that by challenging his authority, you lose his protection and endanger the basics of your survival. Unfortunately people gradually have internalized this idea. Syrians need to take a mental leap and believe that they are capable of getting involved in politics, leading the country, empowering their communities, coming out of their shells and being liberated from within to lead their nation’s political change.
Political change is not only reliant on people’s will, but also requires a change to the state’s attitude toward the concept of power. Authorities should not see themselves as owners of Syria, but rather as employees appointed by the people to run the affairs of the country in the people’s best interest. In case they fail to fulfil their duties, they need to step down and pass the gauntlet of power on.