Posted by Joshua on Monday, October 20th, 2008
Wife of Syrian President Discusses Role in Syria
2008-10-20, BBC MidEast
Excerpt from report by Italian leading privately-owned centre- left newspaper La Repubblica, on 18 October.[Interview with Asma al-Asad, wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, by Alix Van Buren in Damascus; date not given: “‘I, the First Lady, Will Help Syria To Take On a New Appearance'” – first three paragraphs are La Repubblica introduction]
Damascus – One knew that Asma al-Asad, Syria’s first lady [previous two words in English in original], has a reputation as a modern woman, with a taste for going against the trend. And she did not fail to live up to her character, in turning up at the wheel of her metallic gray SUV: she plugged in her iPod, put the car in gear, and announced: “Let’s go into town, without a bodyguard. Nobody will notice.” On the back seat her young assistant, Leyla, smiled indulgently.
Al-Aqilatu[?] al-Rais, that is what the Syrians simply call her: the wife of the President. In the view of the Israeli daily, Haaretz, she is “the first lady who outshone Carla Bruni,” when she appeared this summer in Paris, alongside her husband, President Bashar al- Asad, marking Syria’s return after years of international isolation. In the view of Paris Match, she “conjures up the image of an eastern Lady Diana.” And a prestigious Jewish newspaper in New York, The Forward, ran the headline: “What Michelle Obama can learn from Asma al-Asad: a woman with a strong personality, in one of the toughest regions in the world.” These are surprising compliments, given the marked contrast with the gray image projected by Syria in the 40- year old Ba’athist Socialist regime, which has arrived at the difficult transition which the country is embarking upon. Despite the signs of an open approach on the part of Europe, Damascus remains on the US list of nations which support terrorism: chiefly Hamas and Hezbollah. [passage omitted: Asma al-Asad’s background]
It is perhaps no coincidence that the Syrian first lady has been in Italy since yesterday [as published: the interview apparently took place prior to her trip to Italy], a guest of the Pio Manzu International Study Days, where she is to receive a gold medal from Italy’s President [Napolitano] “for her role as an extraordinary ambassador of change, and of commitment to ensuring that economic growth in Syria is translated into benefits for the whole population.”
[Van Buren] Mrs Al-Asad, doesn’t that seem too ambitious a commitment?
[Asma al-Asad] What counts is asking ourselves where we are, and what route to embark upon. And two factors have an impact here: first, domestic conditions, and I refer to how far ordinary people are involved in the reform process, because the mental stance also has an influence on the timescale of implementation. The second factor relates to external circumstances: we live in a region which has not yet known peace. And this is an uncontrollable, ungovernable element which dictates our pace.
[Van Buren] How much of a part do you play in influencing the decision-making process?
[Asma al-Asad] One thing should be clear: the President is the President. That said, at home we are a team, composed of a husband and wife. Exchanging ideas is natural, in fact it’s healthy. My contribution comes from the experience which I have built up, from the initiatives which I support. I bring information gathered on the ground, in my direct contact with the people.
[Van Buren] It has been said that on your return to Syria you travelled the country incognito. Why?
[Asma al-Asad] I did that to establish a relationship on the ground with the people, founded on communication, which means rolling up one’s sleeves and trying to get something done together. For too long development projects have been drawn up at conferences or in offices which are distant from actual reality. And for too long the government has taken the responsibility for leading development, reform, and modernization. There is no reason for this: the private sector has an important role, as does society at large. And people get excited. They make criticisms. They offer suggestions. There is so much to do: every excluded individual is a waste of resources.
[Van Buren] This is a very different picture from the image of a Syria which is so impenetrable that, according to the Israeli press, the military intelligence services of that country have introduced a virus in the electronic mail, so as to monitor your correspondence with the President, who is judged to be a “mysterious” person. How did things really go?
[Asma al-Asad] My computer was penetrated, I found out from the press. But I am not losing my composure. It happened, period. In any event, I do not communicate with my husband via emails. I prefer the direct approach, and pardon me if I smile.
[Van Buren] The fact remains that the President is described in Washington as a dictator, the head of a state which promotes terrorism. What is your answer?
[Asma al-Asad] This: that I see a contradiction in what you say. What is the explanation for the fact that on the one hand we lead the life of an ordinary couple, who go out to dinner and to the theatre with friends, and to the playground with our children, who live in an apartment in a normal city district, with our children playing in the street with our neighbours’ children, while, on the other hand, the President is allegedly a tyrant, and distant from the people. The two
things cannot exist side by side. As for the President being “mysterious,” it is enough to observe, and to listen: our positions are clear, explicit, and consistent. Perhaps this very fact does not help us.
[Van Buren] And what is the President like in private?
[Asma al-Asad] He is a father who is present, and attentive. If you want to know what attracted me to him, I will tell you about his optimism, his open-mindedness, his readiness to explore every possibility. These are necessary skills for anyone, and all the more so at this historic time, which is full of obstacles. But I married him for what he is, not as the President.
[Van Buren] You are a Muslim, brought up in the Church of England, a Christian school, and here in Damascus you frequent the convent of the Salesian nuns. Have you retained good relations with Christians?
[Asma al-Asad] You must excuse me if I correct you: I do not have “good relations” with Christians, just as I cannot have “good relations” with myself, with my legs and my arms. We Syrians are a single body. Our history did not start yesterday: it is a history that is thousands of years old; St Paul and the Ummayad mosque are part of who I am as a human being. In Europe there is talk of coexistence, and that is a good thing. But that is why, in Britain for example,
Indians, Britons, Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims are not part of the historical legacy, the roots of the country. Here we are one enlarged family.
[Van Buren] Mrs Al-Asad, you have lived in Europe, a long way away from wars. Does this give you a different perspective?
[Asma al-Asad] The culture of peace which exists in Europe does not exist in the Middle East. I have been fortunate. I hope that this generation can know the same peace which I lived in when I was growing up in England. If we are to allow our potential to thrive, as a region, then we deserve that same right.
Originally published by La Repubblica, Rome, in Italian 18 Oct 08 pp.
Sent by Ray Close:
This message was sent to me today by a Jewish lady friend whom I admire very much. See what she says about the “Muslim issue” in these comments about Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barak Obama:
If you missed Powell on Meet the Press today, it’s worth a listen. Powell concludes, with eloquence and gravitas, that Obama is a transformational figure; his comments about the McCain campaign (including the robocalls, which for the moment haven’t received nearly the coverage they deserve) were withering. If you missed Powell on Meet the Press today, it’s worth a listen. Powell concludes, with eloquence and gravitas, that Obama is a transformational figure; his comments about the McCain campaign (including the robocalls, which for the moment haven’t received nearly the coverage they deserve) were withering.
But my favorite part (aside from the endorsement itself) was Powell’s discussion of the “Obama as a Muslim issue.” Obama, he said, is of course a Christian but, he added (unlike everyone else), what if he were a Muslim? So what? He then elaborated with a moving anecdote of a Muslim American mother mourning her son, killed in Iraq, at Arlington National Cemetery. You can’t read it without choking up.
This is a position that the Obama campaign has felt unable to take (unfortunately), for the obvious reasons. To have someone of Powell’s stature (mainstream to the core) stand up and say this is most welcome. It’s time already to rewrite the hate script of the past seven years. Powell didn’t have to include that in his statement today, but he didAnd I give him a lot of credit for using this occasion (in front of a huge national audience) to have his say. Let us not forget how many hundreds of Muslims John Ashcroft rounded up and jailed (with no justification) after 9/11. Muslims became just the latest in the right-wing arsenal of “hate” issues, part of the mother of all of today’s many “hate” issues that have poisoned our nation.
Hear the statement from Powell by clicking on this URL. It’s a short statement, but well worth listening to, especially the anecdote about the American Muslim soldier who died in the war.
A nothing government
By Gideon Levy, 19/10/2008, Haaretz
Tzipi Livni will be prime minister, Ehud Barak will be probably the most senior deputy and potential opposition head, and Israel will gain another nothing government….. Rivals Livni and Barak will act with the utmost vigor to prevent the tiniest bit of achievement from coloring the other’s name. If Barak wants to make peace with Syria, Livni will block him. If Livni seeks peace with the Palestinians, count on the defense minister to undermine her efforts.
Thus far in the coalition negotiations, they have only talked about who would conduct the talks with Syria, not their content – proving how little remains of the first Barak, the prime minister who appeared more daring than all of his predecessors.
The media will cite the confidants, who squabble over every semblance of an achievement, and bad blood will flow between the two bureaus, threatening to engulf us all. Livni and Barak will make us miss Olmert’s government, not to mention previous odd couples Rabin-Peres in Rabin’s first government and Shamir-Peres in the second national unity government. ….All they both want is to gather strength for the elections in two years. This is their purpose in setting up the government, and since it’s a zero-sum game, it will come at each other’s expense and at the expense of us all. …Together, these two will lead us to the brink of an abyss. …
Syrian Opposition Leader Flees Lebanon after Uncovering Assassination Plot
By Talhah Jibril, 19/10/2008, as-Sharq al-Awsat
Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat- Mamun al-Homsi, a leading figure in the Syrian opposition group known as the “Damascus Spring,” has revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat the shocking reasons behind why he fled Beirut for the United States……
Iran, Hezbollah Order Agents Out Of Syria
By David Bedein, 10/20/2008
Jerusalem – The Middle East Newsline has confirmed that Iran and Hezbollah, amid a spate of assassinations, have ordered their agents to leave Syria.
Iran and Hezbollah have warned their representatives that they could become targets in Syria.
Over the last month, the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sustained at least three major attacks in Damascus, including a car bombing outside the offices of Syrian intelligence as well as a shootout with Palestinian gunmen at a Palestinian refugee camp.
The Iranian intelligence community has recommended that senior officials stop visiting Syria. They said the warning was issued in August in wake of the assassination of Mr. Assad’s military adviser, Maj. Gen. Muhammad Suleiman.
The Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot said Maj. Gen. Suleiman secretly visited Paris in August and disclosed Hezbollah plans to abduct Israeli executives in Thailand and a Gulf Cooperation Council state. Several weeks later, he was assassinated.
Hezbollah also banned its representatives from visiting Syria. It assessed that its members could meet a fate similar to that of its late operational chief Imad Mughniyeh, who was assassinated in a car bombing in Damascus in February.
Hamas has not yet ordered its members out of Syria. Hamas leaders have reinforced security for its headquarters and leadership in wake of the assassination of the aide to Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal in September.
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com