Syria’s 'Day Of Glory' Awaits Demise Of Assad Monarchy

Essay: Syrian-born filmmaker Charif Kiwan provides a Mediterranean history lesson and salutes those daring to defy the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. But he knows the dictator will not cede power easily.

Giant billboard of Assad in Damascus
Giant billboard of Assad in Damascus
Charif Kiwan

I'm writing from Syria. The day of glory (as celebrated in the French Revolutionary anthem "La Marseillaise") is still a long way off. But the flag of freedom is flying high. It was raised by the children who broke the code of silence by writing on their school walls that the king had no clothes. As a result, dozens of these children were arrested in Damascus, Daraa and Alep; hundreds of adults then took to the streets and were in turn arrested or massacred; soldiers refused to shoot at protesters defying the state of emergency that has been in place since 1963. The king stands naked, and the story has reached the end.

But the king is still hanging on, because unlike his other Arab counterparts, the Syrian president has two bodies: the body of a tyrant and the body of a resistance fighter. The first is dying, sick with the same disease that carried off Ben Ali and others. But the second is standing strong, embodying national aspirations fed by the nostalgia of a latter-day Syria cut to pieces by the evil 1916 Sykes-Picot agreements that "remodeled the Middle East."

The first is hated because it is associated with a regime that has turned repression into anthropophagy and nepotism into incest, while the second is the object of a certain national pride. This pride is born out of the endless humiliation the country has endured since the Arab defeat in June 1967, making the young blue-eyed leader, the country's ultimate general, the only Arab leader capable of standing up to the old crusader, George W. Bush. He is also the only Arab leader to support the suicidal guerillas of Hezbollah and Hamas, determined to pave the way for the liberation of Jerusalem. And finally, the only Arab leader claiming to work for the advent of an undivided Arab nation, rid of the Zionist entity.

The king is very much alive. He just has to hide his body of a sick tyrant underneath the one of besieged resistance fighter holding out in a Syrian Masada that he built for himself. I'm worried that once again the whole world will help him out. Of course, in each of their interests, Americans, Europeans and Israelis will be tactful and helpful in order to prevent the region from going up in flames because of the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah-Hamas axis, while the Libyan front is still wide open.

As for Syrians they will have to resign themselves to this fate, because they know very well that the Assad regime's fall will come at a price: the implosion of the Syrian republic, this mysterious entity created by the French empire in 1941, which Syrians have tried to turn into a viable state that can somehow reflect their national aspirations.

Despite being misappropriated, distorted, demeaned, these national aspirations are engraved in the souls of Syrians. It's what led them to accept the dictatorship of the Baath party. But the young protesters challenging the emergency laws created by the Baath party half a century ago seem less resigned then their fathers. Their slogans call out against the Syrian regime as well as its anti-Israeli partners, Iran and Hezbollah. These same young people also accuse the army of high treason for deserting the occupied Golan Heights front to defend an illegitimate regime.

The king will only die when he'll no longer have a substitute body at his disposition, when he will no longer be able to use the liberation of some occupied national territory as an excuse, or have a reason to invoke the need for national unity. But this doesn't depend on the children who've taken the initiative of breaking their fathers' chains of voluntary servitude.

Who then does it depend on? Look and you'll see, says the Syrian wise-man Mousa Abadi, who risked his life to save the children of France being hunted down by the militiamen of a certain General Petain (leader of the Vichy government which collaborated with Nazi Germany during WWII).

I'm writing from France. Here, the day of glory has long since arrived. But we have trouble hearing the children on the other side of the Mediterranean, so mistreated by their king now laid bare. The thought haunting us is whether these children wear beards or not, whether they might one day try to invade our lands, whether they favor good relations across the Sea that unites us. We are also busy trying to ease our conscience by waging a just war against a Libyan tyrant to whom we were trying to sell, just a few short years ago, French-made fighter planes and nuclear power plants.

Read the original article in French

Photo - watchsmart

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!