03 August 2011

Ramadan in Syria

It looks like it is going to be a bloody month in Syria.

As Juan Cole noted, Ramadan is a tricky month for both sides. Apart from a very day of fasting (and not drinking any fluids), the daily prayers are increased to six, the last being "taraweeh" or "tarawih" which consists of at least 20 raka'at. That takes anywhere from an hour to two. Typically people stick around after these last prayers and stay up so that they can eat one last time before dawn and go to bed to wake up as late as possible.

On the one hand people are tired and weak. On the other hand, they are congregated all the time in large groups and that naturally leads to conversations about whatever that is on their minds. In this nstance, the obvious topic could be the infidels of the Baath party. People also have this feeling of purging and cleansing during Ramadan and as such they might be closer to martyrdom: dying in a holy month, when your body and mind is cleaner, is not an undesirable thing for a Muslim.

My guess is that, as the Syrian army closed off the Turkish border to ensure that Turks cannot use a massive exodus as a pretext to intervene, they grew confident that they can repeat the 1982 massacre and they are getting ready to turn this pious town into a bloody example once again. The problem is that this will not be as easily achieved as last time. Even with communications cut off, people have access to satellite phones, the Internet and all kinds of informal means to get the word out. And that will render the previous attitude to ignore what is taking place impossible.

Moreover, if my general claim was correct and both the US and Turkey wanted a regime change in Syria, this willful ignorance would not take place. Images of a sustained (people being more willing to die in Ramadan) and massive massacre in Hama could trigger an international intervention spearheaded by Turkey. Since people being slaughtered will be Muslim Arabs (by secular Baathists) it will be very hard for neighboring countries and their increasingly more informed populations to condemn such an interventions.

Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs -the architect of the neo-Ottoman push in the region- echoed the Turkish President's statement from two days ago:
Davutoğlu noted that Turkey had no desire for international intervention in the Syrian conflict, but as clashes continue to take lives in the country with no prospect of reforms in the imminent future, he said that “no one can remain silent when more than 100 people are killed in a single day.”
Compared his language with what Abdullah Gul said a couple of days ago:
The response of the Turkish government and human rights organizations was harsh, with President Abdullah Gül saying on Monday that the country “could not remain silent” in the face of violence perpetrated during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
In the meantime:
 And US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received Syrian opposition activists at the state department for the first time on Tuesday, in a strong signal that the Obama administration has decided to forge ahead with isolating President Assad, the BBC's Kim Ghattas reports from Washington.
I believe that Assad and his entourage of thugs are misreading the situation, thinking that they are seen as indispensable for the stability of the region. I seriously doubt that.

Finally one interesting bit of information about the unintended consequences of Turkey's open border policy with its neighbors:
According to the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency’s (BDDK) Turkey’s Financial Map statistics, foreign currency deposits of real persons in Turkey showed no change between March 2010 and March 2011 while there was an increase in Hatay amounting to TL 404 million ($228 million). This increase continues. A similar increase could be seen in other provinces neighboring Syria, in particular Kilis, where an increase of 48-percent was higher than the one in Hatay in terms of percentages but less in terms of volume. The increase in foreign currency deposits of companies in Turkey was 36 percent, but it was 101 percent in Hatay. Thus, real persons and companies in Hatay deposited some $410 million in banks during the last year.
These are not huge numbers, yet, but they show a trend. They also indicate that even if all protests were miraculously suppressed with no outside intervention, the Syrian economy will soon find itself in a difficult spot.

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