Posted by Joshua on Monday, September 8th, 2008
Syrian Art Sizzles, by Andrew Lee Butters for Time's MidEast blog:
Syrian artists — or at least some of them — are poor no more. Middle Eastern art in general is the latest emerging scene in the contemporary art world, and Syria is moving to the center of it. In the past two years, prices for the artists that Samawi represents have risen 500 to 1,000 percent. Paintings for his top artist, Safwan Dahoul (pictured above), command as much as $200,000. Ayyam Gallery sells most of its works for around $10,000 to $20,000, has a branch in Dubai, is opening one in Beirut, and an exhibition — "Damascus Calling" — at an international art show in New York this October. …..
Difficult decisions loom for Syria's Assad
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis – Analysis
Reuters, 8 Sept. 2008
DAMASCUS (Reuters) – After basking in international limelight, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faces difficult decisions that could change the political landscape of the Middle East.
Peace talks with Israel and cooperation on Lebanon have helped bring the once international outcast in from the cold, culminating in a visit last week by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the first Western head of government to visit Syria since the 2005 killing of Lebanese statesman Rafik al-Hariri.
But Assad, shaped by his late father's lifetime of struggle with Israel, is facing pressure to change old alliances with Iran and militant groups, and take specific action on Lebanon to dispel the impression that Syria still refuses to accept the sovereignty of its smaller neighbor. …. Syria has asked France for help on stalled peace talks with Israel. …. "Assad wants to keep talking with Israel without committing to anything. It is understandable since Israel has also not given him anything," one diplomat in the Syrian capital said.
"But Syria cannot keep on dancing with everybody without kissing anyone. Assad has shown no signs of burning bridges with Iran. Hamas is an easier card to play," he added.
Damascus demands the return of all the Golan. Israel, in turn, wants Syria to scale back ties with Iran and cut links to the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah, which could mean expelling the Hamas leadership from Damascus and cutting an alleged supply line to the Lebanese Shi'ite group from Syria.
Hamas has denied an Arab press report that its exiled leader Khaled Meshaal was moving to Sudan, but the group stands to lose politically if a peace deal is signed between Israel and Syria….. Syria favors moving to direct talks only after a new U.S. administration comes to office. Assad said an American role was necessary but Turkey will continue to be a main mediator.
….. Syria's proposed economic association agreement with the European Union faces opposition from Britain if Damascus does not cut its alleged support to infiltrators into Iraq. The agreement needs approval of all European Union members to pass.
"Syria is still seen as having a behavior problem, and a new U.S. administration will not change this. One way of doing so is to deliver on (opening) embassies with Lebanon, start physical work on the demarcation of the border and stop backing insurgents in Iraq," another diplomat said.
Assad recently agreed to open diplomatic relations with Beirut and border demarcation, but these issues are mired in committees. Sarkozy made it clear that French rapprochement would not last without specific Syrian action.
Leading Syrian journalist Thabet Salem said the lure of returning the Golan and the economic benefits of peace — Syria's economy has woefully underperformed for decades — would drive Syrian rulers to change their external posture.
"Syria always puts its interests first," Salem said. "The issue is not whether Syria can disengage from Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas but if Israel does not give back the Golan and the talks fail. We're then back to point zero.
“Egyptian anger at Syria and Qatar” (Al-Akhbar Lebanon) Mideastwire.com
Cairo is angry at the Syrian and Qatari movements. The sources revealed to Al-Akhbar that Cairo was not pleased at Syria and Qatar’s attempts to enter on the line of the prisoner exchange deal being brokered by the Egyptians between the Palestinian Hamas movement and the Israelis.
…The official stressed: “We were never against Damascus. But, on the other hand, we never supported its project and attempts to impose its control and hegemony on Lebanon or to spread the Iranian Shi’i project in the region”…”
…“The commander of the Awakening forces in Diyala stated that thousands of his elements were about to seek asylum in the West along with their families, for fear of being killed or kidnapped by the militias and the governmental troops in light of the Iraqi authorities’ decision to pursue and disarm them. The commander of the Awakening forces in the Diyala province, Ala’a Hamad Sultan al-Nadawi, warned of the bleak fate of his fighters if the government does not handle the unemployment problem that will emerge following its decision to allow only a few elements to join its security forces with thousands of others left without a job. ….
A reconciliation accord due to be signed later Monday between Alawites and Sunnis in northern Lebanon's capital of Tripoli aims to restore state control in the port city and put an end to bloodshed…..
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will demand that Israel pay Lebanon $1 billion in compensation over damages caused during the Jewish state's 2006 war against Hizbullah, Lebanese media reported Saturday….
Why Did Violence Plummet? It Wasn't Just the Surge. By: Bob Woodward | The Washington Post
In Washington, conventional wisdom translated these events into a simple view: The surge had worked. But the full story was more complicated. At least three other factors were as important as, or even more important than, the surge. These factors either have not been reported publicly or have received less attention than the influx of troops. …
Israeli Police Suggest Indicting Olmert By: Isabel Kershner | The New York Times
The Israeli police on Sunday recommended indicting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on charges including bribe-taking, fraud and breach of trust.
Tzipi Livni: Grasping the Nettle By: Dominic Moran | ISN Security Watch
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is favored to assume the role of prime minister, but victory on 17 September guarantees nothing. …
Zvi Bare'l in Haaretz, here (via FLC)
"….Better yet, Israel, which has always made sure to enlist the U.S. against Syria and made an essential contribution to sanctions against Syria, has broken through a new road for itself and shown the U.S. policy of sanctions to be an empty vessel…."