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.

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