Washington DC, May 14, 2007/Reform Syria Blog – Farid Ghadry/ — My last Blog about my admiration for the country of Israel got me some hate mail, a clear threat for liquidation, an interview in Maariv, a correction provided by a fellow reader, and telephone calls from RPS members and supporters. Many, many from Jewish groups, Israelis, and friends I have known for some time. I am thankful for their support.
The hate mail was mostly of sub-standard nature. Either full of illegible cursing or hate for no reason. The one we see on al-Jazeera all the time by extreme Muslim clerics trying to find gravitas in their austere world limited to the Koran and a life within a radius of few kilometers of birth.
The threats I received were clear and delivered by none other than an Arab journalist who recently spent hours with Baschar al-Assad. My wife thinks that Assad is threatening me to quit politics. I believe there is nothing more dangerous to the regime than secular Muslim Sunnis political activists willing to engage the US and Israel openly and that explains why with all of our activities, the regime has not sentenced me in absentia the way it has sentenced other dissidents; Assad does not want to draw attention to our work. My fellow Syrian members in the party want me to even visit Israel, something I am contemplating seriously. Unbelievable as it sounds, the ones who are pushing me the most to visit Israel are the secular Syrians living in very traditional countries like Saudi Arabia. They represent the best known families in Syria and are one of the most ardent supporters of RPS.
Based on my first installment in these series, thanks to a reader from Canada who sent me an email in which he points out that Abdus Salaam (born in Pakistan) shared with two other scientists a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979, and Ahmad Zewail (born in Egypt, US citizen) was the sole recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1999. Zewail is the third Egyptian Nobel laureate (the other two are Anwar Sadat and Neguib Mahfouz). Both scientists earned their prize as expatriates given that neither Pakistan or Egypt had the infrastructure necessary to reward their intellect. Thank you for the correction.
In this second installment, more facts of why I admire the Jewish state and more of our shortcomings. I have always believed that for successful countries to flourish, they must build a solid economic base from which they can project a balanced military power to defend their turf. The Russians, in the aftermath of their gains in WWII, built their military complex before developing a sustainable economic system. Russian communism fell as a result. Syria is duplicating that model, which will eventually bring the demise of the Assad regime and as hard as Assad tries to develop the Syrian economy, there are invisible and expedient forces at work helping forestall any free market initiatives as long as the system is fraught with corruption and lack of tested laws to protect capital. Violent Arab dictators, like Assad, when faced with an incapacity to build a strong economy in a system void of checks and balances tend to resort to terrorism to extract concessions in support of an ailing system. It was true yesterday, through the use of soft threats by Assad Sr. against the Gulf countries, and it is true today by Assad Jr. using proxies like Hezbollah and suicide bombers against Iraq. All of this to save his regime by saving Syria economically.
On the other hand, Israel has followed in the footsteps of the United States but also simultaneously created a strong Army; a feat not to be underestimated. Laws to protect investments and investors are in place along with accountable politicians. Israel’s success is self-made, realized under very difficult conditions that we Arabs tend to ignore. Our calls for Israel’s destruction are destroying us from within. According to the CIA fact book, Israel’s GDP (per capita income) is $26,200 as estimated for 2006. On the other hand, Syria’s GDP is $4,000 almost 7 times less than Israel’s, which means seven times less the standard of living. Mind you, the weaker Syria is the more dangerous Syria becomes and the more prosperous Syria is the less dangerous Syrians will become. If an average Syrian had a strong net worth or balance sheet, he/she would spend their time on finding ways to protect their net worth using the power of his vote. We destroy today because we have nothing to lose. Hamas won the elections because the Palestinian people voted without the benefit of a balance sheet to protect.
Israel’s economic base dates back to 1953 when TASE, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, was founded. Today’s companies on TASE have a total Market Cap of over $150b. That is almost $24,000 for each Israeli. Syria’s stock exchange is non-existent (Plans are underway to institute one) and even if one is developed, all the companies listed anyway would either be owned by the Assad family or their cronies. Honestly, who would invest with a company owned by the ruler? Can you imagine a shareholders’ meeting, which is the ultimate expression of accountability, of a Syrian company owned by Assad? If you argue for dividends, you get a jail sentence.
In Israel, the richest man Stef Wertheimer is self-made. Or how about the fourth richest man Yitzhak Tshuva who began in Netanya in a single room where his penniless family of 11 lived. In Syria, the richest man is Assad and the fourth richest man is another Assad, both of whom casually helped themselves to the tilt. Can you imagine the scandal it would cause in Israel if the prime minister just granted himself the only Israeli cellular license for free? In Syria, it is normal. That’s why Israel is so important for the region. In fact, in all the Arab countries, the richest men are the presidents and the Kings of their respective countries. This top-down, highly centralized wealth spreader system is the cause of our stagnation even with all the oil reserves that one day will run out. Sciences are and will always be the engine that creates the opportunities for countries to prosper.
There was a story the other day about the increase in arid lands in Syria due partially to climate change and partially to the neglect of the Syrian government. If you fly from Egypt to Israel, people tell me that you can recognize where the border is when the land turns suddenly green as you get in Israel. In countries where water is scarce, they have adopted water management technologies to help ease supply needs by recycling water. Today in Israel, out of 1.1 billion cubic meters of water used for agriculture approximately 300million cubic meters were recycled effluents. I do not have any numbers about Syrian recycling but here is a true story for you that I heard first-hand.
An affluent lawyer in Damascus drives his car every other day for about 50 kilometers to buy his fruits and vegetables even though he can buy them easily in Damascus. One can find the largest lettuce heads and the biggest tomatoes in Damascus but he would not buy them for anything in the world. It turned out that the Syrian government uses its sewer water, without any recycling or possibly poor recycling, to water the farms surrounding Damascus. Untreated sewer water contains lots of fertilizers, which explains the size of the lettuce and tomatoes. The lawyer tells me they taste awful. I am ashamed of telling this story about my beloved Syria but the reality is that Assad spends billions on arms and missiles and the people eat sewer-laden food. If our leaders in Syria were accountable the way the Israeli leaders are accountable to their people, Syria would become a trading partner with Israel instead of lobbing its missiles, via Hezbollah, against Israelis.
But not everything is bad. There is something unique about Syria that I hope Israelis will get to see for themselves. We are truly a kind and peaceful people, which explains why, with all the oppression we are subjected to by Assad, we have not resorted to any form of violence to extract ourselves from our predicament. It is no fault of ours that we are not free to express our kindness and tendency for peace freely. Do not listen to the culture of hate permeating in Syrian societies, it is all Assad-induced to divert the attention of the people away from the miseries he and his father before him have worked so hard to inseminate us with. The day Syrians are free from Assad is the day Syrians will extend a hand of friendship to the Israelis.
In the third installment, I will discuss why many Palestinians prefer Israeli democracy to their own corrupt rulers; why Palestinians in Syria must be given the chance to integrate and prosper the way they integrated and prospered in many Gulf countries, and why Israeli peace with Assad is not in Israel’s best interests.