The Summit must go on!

March 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Emir of Qatar.

No Shows: King of Jordan Abdallah II, President of Yemen Ali abd al-Salah, King of Saudi Arabia Abdallah bin abd al-Aziz, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Sultan of Oman, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the King of Morocco, and Lebanon.

Shows: Eleven Arab leaders including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the President of Algeria, the Emir of Qatar, and some other dudes. Eighteen leaders were present at last year’s summit in Riyadh.

Summit Time!

Algerian President Abdalaziz Boutflika and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. One is short; the other is tall!

Double-chin twins! Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and head of the Arab League Amr Moussa.

Double-chins for everyone! Qaddhafi looks fat!

Assad intimidates Palestinian President Abbas by grabbing his bicep. Hot!

I am calling men fat because this label is normally disproportionately saved for women.

Information and Photos from al-Jazeera and al-Thawra.

Syrian newspaper publishes obscenely long article on the Damascus Summit

March 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

Syrian newspaper al-Thawra has unnecessarily published an epic-length article on the Damascus Summit which is scheduled to begin tomorrow. Several Arab governments have sent low-level ministers to the summit in order to express disapproval of Syria’s role in Lebanon’s presidential crisis. Lebanon has boycotted the summit entirely. The article from al-Thawra is just like twenty press releases jumbled together: Peace, blah blah, Israel, Golan, blah blah, Arab ministers, Occupation.

Here is Lebanon’s empty seat at the Summit. (al-Nahar)

Al-Jazeera has an article on Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat whose work is quite controversial. (Here is his homepage.) The cartoon below depicts his sentiments on Arab summits in general.

But, resistance is futile.

Three Kurds killed in Qamishle in Northeastern Syria

March 21, 2008 § Leave a comment

(Photo of the suspension bridge over the Euphrates in Deir ez-Zour, a Syrian city which has a substantial Kurdish population.)

Syrian security forces shot three Kurds to death and wounded four others in the Northeastern Syrian city of Qamishle which is on the Turkish border and very close to Iraq. The Kurds were celebrating Noruz. (Reuters via RMC daily news report.)

One resident said the youths burned tires and threw stones at the riot police, who are permanently deployed in the city which is home to a large Kurdish population. Another resident said the police fired at the crowd unprovoked.

There is much prejudice towards Kurds in Syria. Many times, they are seen as unclean and uneducated. The Kurdish population in Syria is concentrated in the Northeast and there are some Kurdish pockets in Western Syria. Relations between the Syrian government and the Kurdish population have shifted over time. Former president Hafiz al-Assad cultivated ties for a time with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) and provided a safe haven for the group, but there the relations between the government and the Kurds have since soured substantially.

Watching people watch people

March 14, 2008 § Leave a comment

(The promenade next to the Assad Library in Damascus at night, July 2007)

Al-Arabiya reports that the Syrian government has increased surveillance measures at internet cafes. The president of the Syrian Media Centre Mazen Darwish said that internet cafe owners must record the names and identification numbers of their customers as well as the time of entrance and departure. This information must then be turned over to the Syrian security apparatus.

Websites like YouTube and Facebook are banned in Syria, but it is widely known that all “banned” sites can be easily accessed at internet cafes. If you have internet at your home in Syria, then it is a different case and you cannot access any banned sites, including all blogs. It is known in Syria that there are certain internet cafes which work with the Syrian intelligence and turn over information readily, but there are also internet cafes (which tend to get shut down for extended periods of time and then re-open) which do not always willingly comply with government demands. Yet people who are directly criticizing the Syrian government (through a blog or website) normally play it safe and do much of their work in Lebanon.

(Central Damascus near the Souq Saroujah, July 2007.)

When foreigners arrive in Syria (at least Americans), their passport is marked with a number and this number is then recorded at any hotel, museum, or government office the traveler visits. I have a hunch that this number corresponds to your file (if it even exists) and it is a way for the Syrian government to keep tabs on your movements. The prevailing argument is that this foreigner-tracking is for safety measures.

I once had a Syrian taxi driver ask me, Do you like our President? I looked around uncomfortably and said, Well, I don’t know him personally, do you? He laughed and told me, I am in the mukhabarat (government intelligence office)! At this point, it was obvious that he was joking, but many people only speak with close friends and relatives about their actual opinions on the government.

Check yes or no

March 14, 2008 § Leave a comment

This photo from al-Nahar shows the envelope containing an invitation to the Damascus Summit given to Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora from the Syrian Prime Minister Naji Atri. I had no idea that Syria even had a prime minister. It is still unclear whether Lebanon will send a representative to the Damascus Summit which will be held at the end of March.

Syria in the News

March 7, 2008 § Leave a comment

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that the United States has increased security measures against Syria by implementing strengthened searches on ships entering US ports which have passed through Syrian ports. The State Department said that these measures were taken because of Syria’s connections with “terrorist” organizations.

Al-Hayat reports that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem attended a conference for Arab foreign ministers in Cairo where he criticized Condoleezza Rice’s recent trip to the Middle East by saying she came only to “justify the fleet of ships which are off the coast of Lebanon.”

Mughniya’s widow blames Syria for assassination

February 29, 2008 § Leave a comment

(Image of Mughniya and Nasrallah from al-Arabiya.)

Al-Arabiya reports that the wife of assassinated Hezbullah military leader ‘Amad  al-Mughniya has accused Syria of playing a role in the assassination of her husband. Al-Arabiya conveniently has the article in English and Arabic. Here’s an excerpt from the English article:

“The Syrian traitors assisted in killing my husband,” the Italian news agency AKI quoted Mughniah’s widow as telling an Iranian website. She asserted that the Syrians’ refusal to allow Iranian investigators to probe the assassination proves their involvement in the murder of Mugniah.

A Dignified Exit . . . Not!

February 25, 2008 § Leave a comment

(Image of American troops not leaving Iraq from Joe Raedle/Getty Images.)

Get Out

According to al-Hayat, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mua’llem said that Syria is prepared to help American forces have a “dignified exit” (kharouj musharraf) from Iraq, as long as America would institute a time table for building the Iraqi forces. Mu’allem has also said that the Iraqi army and government should be built on a national — and not sectarian — basis.

(Image of Turkish troops not leaving Iraq via al-Jazeera.)

Get Out Part II

Al-Jazeera reports that the Iraqi government has called for Turkish troops to leave Iraq, with officials describing the Turkish invasion of northern Iraq as a violation of the country’s sovereignty. Turkey has stated it intends to send an official delegation to Baghdad.

Senior Hezbullah military leader assassinated in Damascus

February 13, 2008 § 1 Comment

(Screen shot of southern Beirut from al-Jazeera. The caption reads: Breaking: Hezbullah blames Israel for the assassination of ‘Amad al-Mughniya and Tel Aviv denies any connection to the assassination.)

Al-Jazeera reports that a senior Hezbullah military leader, ‘Amad al-Mughniya, was killed by a car explosion in a residential area of Damascus. Hezbullah says that Israeli operatives are responsible for the assassination. Crowds flooded the street in al-Dahiyya (southern Beirut) and Mughniya’s brother opened up his home for mourning.

The al-Jazeera correspondent in Damascus said that the security situation around the site of the explosion in Damascus is incredibly tight and no one is being allowed to take photographs. (Contrast this with every explosion in Beirut in which images are immediately and widely publicized.) The correspondent said that the car (a Mitsubishi) was moved an hour after the explosion — the bulk of the damage can be seen on the driver’s side.

Al-Jazeera reports that in the US, Mughniya is being portrayed as a “big terrorist” who was responsible for several hostage situations.

Israel’s Involvement

Al-Jazeera says that Israeli officials have denied any connection to the assassination after a period of silence, but Hezbullah is confident that Israel was behind the assassination — a claim bolstered by Israel’s numerous assassinations and attempted assassinations of Hezbullah leaders in the past.

The Muslim Brotherhood in Lebanon has condemned the assassination and so has Hamas. The March 14th forces have called for shared mourning on February 14th, which is the third anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Sayyid Fadlallah, who has been the target of a failed Israeli assassination attempt, issued a statement condemning the assassination.

Al-Manar Coverage

Al-Manar published an article which praises his involvement in the Resistance and his love of Palestine. A statement from Hezbullah states that Mughniya was martyred at the hands of the Zionist enemy and that the Resistance will continue on his path until a full victory has been achieved, God willing. Al-Manar also says that Mughniya is joining a list of martyrs that have been assassinated by Israel.

Western Press Coverage

The Western press has already launched a campaign to further demonize Hezbullah and cast the assassination as a much-deserved killing. ABC News portrays Mughniya as a “U.S.-Wanted Terrorist,” even commenting that, “His death is a significant achievement for the intelligence organization that caused it.”

The NY Times also focuses on Mughniya’s role in “terrorist” activities and says that American officials consider Mughniya responsible for the bombings of the Marine barracks and the US embassy in Beirut in 1983. The Times article, as well as several others, makes reference to Mughniya being a “master of disguises” by having undergone plastic surgery to change his appearance.

Syrian Government Wants Opposition to Shut Up

January 31, 2008 § Leave a comment

(The above image of Talal abu Dan is from

The Syrian security apparatus has continued a campaign of arresting members of the Syrian opposition, specifically targeting members of the Damascus Declaration (‘alaan dimashq). Twelve members of the group, which formed in 2005 and demands basic human rights for Syrian citizens and a democratic government, have been arrested in one month. The Damascus Declaration recently held a conference which triggered this crackdown.

Most recently, al-Arabiya reports 55-year-old Syrian artist Talal abu Dan, who is a member of the Damascus Declaration was arrested in Aleppo, according to to the Syrian Human Rights Committee. Here is the Committee’s website in English. Talal had previously spent ten years in prison for his involvement with the Syrian Communist Party.

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