NGO’s in Syria; Mitchell Should Resign; Egypt and Syria Feud; Assad to Libya

Is Syria ready to engage with NGOs?
By Lina Sinjab
BBC News, Damascus

Syria has sent a strong signal that it is ready to engage with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and development organisations in order to promote a more active civil society in the country.

At this weekend’s pioneering conference in Damascus which drew many international delegates, Syria’s First Lady, Asma al-Assad, called on Syrian citizens to become more engaged in addressing the country’s social and economic challenges.

“The government is partnering with these organisations [NGOs] … to try and develop the best development strategy for the country. It is part of a broader approach to development, clearly based on the idea that one party cannot do it alone,” she told the BBC.

The concept of civil society is relatively new to Syria, where the government has long exerted tight controls over the involvement of NGOs in Syrian life.

The country has a small number of functioning NGOs in comparison to neighbouring nations: around 1,500 compared with 5,000 in Lebanon.

But their number is increasing, according to the Syrian government.

“This represents a political will. They wouldn’t have increased, otherwise. They wouldn’t have been involved or encouraged to be involved in sectors previously not encouraged,” Mrs Assad says.

‘Crucial role’

The keynote speaker at the conference, Lord Mark Malloch Brown, who is a senior advisor to the World Economic Forum, says that the region as a whole faces a “gathering storm” of societal problems, with poor economic growth, high unemployment, and low levels of education.

“Civil society should be a partner to the state and indispensible part of the development process,” he says.

In 2007 under the chairmanship of Mrs Assad, the Syria Trust for Development was established to work on rural development, female empowerment, and the promotion of Syrian culture.

The first lady believes that such organisations are playing a crucial role in areas that were previously perceived as the role of the government alone.

“Most importantly is the role these organisations are playing and the change they are influencing on the ground,” Mrs Assad says.

‘Real change’

Some are sceptical that the Syrian government will genuinely allow independent organisations to develop within the country.

Rami Khouri, director of Isam Fares Institute for Pulic Policy in Beirut and a delegate at the conference, said that that though the event was an important signal, only time would tell whether real change would happen.

“This is a moment where civil society and private sector have to challenge [the government] in a positive way to see how far the government is willing to open up the space.”

And some local organisations still find it hard to operate in Syria.

Mayya Rahabi, co-founder of a committee to defend women’s issues, says she doesn’t believe there is real civil society in Syria.

“We applied for the registration three years ago and we haven’t heard an answer,” Mrs Rahabi says.

The Syrian government is working on new legislation that – it claims – will make it easier for people like Mrs Rahabi to operate.

“I am hoping that this conference and this new law will allow us to operate freely – that real change will come, not just words,” Mrs Rahabi says.

Time for George Mitchell to resign
Sunday, 24 January 2010
Stephen M. Walt

If Mideast special envoy George Mitchell wants to end his career with his reputation intact, it is time for him to resign. He had a distinguished tenure in the U.S. Senate — including a stint as majority leader — and his post-Senate career has been equally accomplished. He was an effective mediator of the conflict in Northern Ireland, helped shepherd the Disney Corporation through a turbulent period, and led an effective investigation of the steroids scandal afflicting major league baseball. Nobody can expect to be universally admired in the United States, but Mitchell may have come as close as any politician in recent memory.

Why should Mitchell step down now? Because he is wasting his time. The administration’s early commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace was either a naïve bit of bravado or a cynical charade, and if Mitchell continues to pile up frequent-flyer miles in a fruitless effort, he will be remembered as one of a long series of U.S. “mediators” who ended up complicit in Israel’s self-destructive land grab on the West Bank. Mitchell will turn 77 in August, he has already undergone treatment for prostate cancer, and he’s gotten exactly nowhere (or worse) since his mission began. However noble the goal of Israeli-Palestinian peace might be, surely he’s got better things to do.

In an interview earlier this week with Time’s Joe Klein, President Obama acknowledged that his early commitment to achieving “two states for two peoples” had failed. In his words, “this is as intractable a problem as you get … Both sides-the Israelis and the Palestinians-have found that the political environments, the nature of their coalitions or the divisions within their societies, were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation. And I think we overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that” (my emphasis).

This admission raises an obvious question: who was responsible for this gross miscalculation? It’s not as if the dysfunctional condition of Israeli and Palestinian internal politics was a dark mystery when Obama took office, or when Netanyahu formed the most hard-line government in Israeli history. Which advisors told Obama and Mitchell to proceed as they did, raising expectations sky-high in the Cairo speech, publicly insisting on a settlement freeze, and then engaging in a humiliating retreat? Did they ever ask themselves what they would do if Netanyahu dug in his heels, as anyone with a triple-digit IQ should have expected? And if Obama now realizes how badly they screwed up, why do the people who recommended this approach still have their jobs?

As for Mitchell himself, he should resign because it should be clear to him that he was hired under false pretenses. He undoubtedly believed Obama when the president said he was genuinely committed to achieving Israel-Palestinian peace in his first term. Obama probably promised to back him up, and his actions up to the Cairo speech made it look like he meant it. But his performance ever since has exposed him as another U.S. president who is unwilling to do what everyone knows it will take to achieve a just peace. Mitchell has been reduced to the same hapless role that Condoleezza Rice played in the latter stages of the Bush administration — engaged in endless “talks” and inconclusive haggling over trivialities-and he ought to be furious at having been hung out to dry in this fashion.

The point is not that Obama’s initial peace effort in the Middle East has failed; the real lesson is that he didn’t really try. The objective was admirably clear from the start — “two states for two peoples” — what was missing was a clear strategy for getting there and the political will to push it through. And notwithstanding the various difficulties on the Palestinian side, the main obstacle has been the Netanyahu government’s all-too obvious rejection of anything that might look like a viable Palestinian state, combined with its relentless effort to gobble up more land. Unless the U.S. president is willing and able to push Israel as hard as it is pushing the Palestinians (and probably harder), peace will simply not happen. Pressure on Israel is also the best way to defang Hamas, because genuine progress towards a Palestinian state in the one thing that could strengthen Abbas and other Palestinian moderates and force Hamas to move beyond its talk about a long-term hudna (truce) and accept the idea of permanent peace…..

the two-state solution looking less and less likely, these other possibilities begin to loom large. Through fear and fecklessness, the United States has been an active enabler of an emerging tragedy. Israelis have no one to blame but themselves for the occupation, but Americans — who like to think of themselves as a country whose foreign policy reflects deep moral commitments-will be judged harshly for our own role in this endeavor.

The United States will suffer certain consequences as a result-decreased international influence, a somewhat greater risk of anti-American terrorism, tarnished moral reputation, etc.-but it will survive. But Israel may be in the process of drafting its own suicide pact, and its false friends here in the United States have been supplying the paper and ink. By offering his resignation-and insisting that Obama accept it-George Mitchell can escape the onus of complicity in this latest sad chapter of an all-too-familiar story. Small comfort, perhaps, but better than nothing.

Planting tree in West Bank, Netanyahu vows ‘we are here to stay’
By Barak Ravid and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondents, and Reuters
Tags: Israel news, George Mitchell

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday attended a tree-planting ceremony in the West Bank town of Kfar Etzion to mark Tu B’Shvat (Arbor day) and said, “Our message is clear: We are planting trees here and we are here to stay.”

Netanyahu said Israelis would continue building in the West Bank and that those places will forever be an inseparable part of Israel.

“There is a national consensus regarding this issue in Israel, and this recognition is slowly permeating the international arena,” Netanyahu said. “Today’s tree plantingreinforces this international position.”

Obama’s envoy urges Syria, Lebanon to join Mideast talks
Haaretz

U.S. President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, held his second meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 48 hours in Amman on Sunday and pledged continued efforts to ensure the creation of a “viable” Palestinian state.

In remarks to reporters after the meeting, Mitchell said the United States would press ahead with efforts for the accomplishment of the “two-state solution.”

However, Mitchell said that Syria and Lebanon should be involved in the peace negotiations so that all countries of the region can enjoy “normal ties.” Abbas told Mitchell during their talks that the Palestinians were committed to reaching a peace agreement based on clear negotiations and a complete cessation of Israeli activity in West Bank settlements, according to the PA leader’s aides.

“We are frustrated but not disheartened,” a senior official said. “No breakthrough is expected but we are continuing with our efforts. There are still things we have not tried.” The Americans said Mitchell would continue in his efforts and did not plan to resign. …

Top leaders of Syria, Libya discuss regional issues
25 January 2010 | 00:02 | FOCUS News Agency

Damascus. The top leaders of Syria and Libya on Sunday held talks in Tripoli on the latest developments in the Arab world and the preparations for the upcoming Arab summit due to be held in Tripoli next March, Xinhua News Agency informs. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who arrived in Tripoli to pay a short work visit to Libya, and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi talked about the challenges facing the Arab nations, particularly the Israeli siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, the obstacles placed by Israel in the way of achieving peace in the Middle East and the latest developments in the region.

The two leaders urged all the Arab countries to act in solidarity and help the next Arab summit come up with outcomes in the interest of the Arab nations, adding that it is necessary to achieve the Palestinian national reconciliation to help strengthen the Arab stance. The two leaders affirmed their efforts to further consolidate bilateral relations in various domains, agreeing on forming a joint higher strategic council to push forward mutual cooperation in different aspects.

Today … Mubarak accused Hamas and Syria indirectly of interfering in Egyptian internal affairs … And he said “there is some Arab country that is conducting a campaign against Egypt and hosting Arab conferences which produced many accusations against Egypt. Their house is made of glass and I advise them to stop it.”

ذكر أن 14 شركة من شركات القطاع العام الصناعي من وضع متعثر, حيث تواجه هذه الشركات خسائر كبيرة, الأمر الذي جعلها غير قادرة على دفع رواتب موظفيها وجعل الحكومة تفكر بإغلاقها أو طرحها للاستثمار من قبل القطاع الخاص توفيرا لخسائر
بملايين الليرات.

سيريانيوز

Lebanon says it may respond to the banning Al-Manar in the US, by banning CNN and AL-Hurra. Also .. Alsyassa was banned on Sunday because of its editorial

في سابقة هي الأولى من نوعها منذ فترة طويلة في لبنان، منع الأمن العام اللبناني دخول عدد الأحد من جريدة «السياسة» الكويتية. أما سبب المنع فهو افتتاحية العدد التي حملت عنوان «حلف الشياطين الإرهابي من لبنان إلى اليمن وغزة..» بقلم رئيس التحرير أحمد الجار الله. وتضمّنت المقالة تهجماً على قوى الممانعة في العالم العربي من «حماس» إلى «حزب الله». وشنّ الجار الله هجوماً على السيّد حسن نصر الله ووصفه بأنه «مجرد أداة تدار عبر ريموت كونترول المصلحة

Haaretz: Syria and Hezbollah have gone on alert anticipating an Israeli attack on Lebanon, the London-based A-Sharq al-Awsat daily reported on Friday. According to the report, Hezbollah has been monitoring with caution the reinforcement of Israel Defense Forces troops along the Lebanon border. Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general, Naeem Kassem, said the group was preparing to retaliate although it had no proof of any such Israeli plans. Syria has meanwhile begun to call up reserves troops, including nationals residing in Lebanon. The IDF responded to the report by denying any plans for renewing conflict against Lebanon.

Tourists Return to an Ancient Crossroads in Syria
New York Times by LIONEL BEEHNE, January 24, 2010

In September, tourism in Syria was up by more than a third from the same month a year earlier, and the recent loosening of visa restrictions with Turkey means that Aleppo is being flooded with traders and tourists from across the border.

“The whole infrastructure of tourism is improving dramatically,” said Joshua Landis, an American professor and Mideast expert who runs a popular blog called …

Sissi House can feel a bit stuffy -- French-only menus, no prices listed -- but its lamb kebab lathered in tangy cherry sauce is worth the visit. Photo: Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Len Davis writes: “I saw the article in the NYT with your site and thought you might appreciate this video I made in Aleppo at a felafel shop.”

KUWAIT 2ND BIGGEST INVESTOR IN SYRIA: REPORT
By NAM NEWS NETWORK Jan 24th, 2010

DAMASCUS, Jan 24 (NNN-KUNA) — A Syrian economic report on Arab and foreign investments from 1991-2008 showed Saturday that Kuwait came in second position among Arabs with the first place belonging to Iraqi investments, which also topped overall investments, while Lebanon and Saudi Arabia came in third and fourth respectively.

The report issued by the Syrian Investment Authority revealed that Iraqi investment projects within the specific period were at 40 while Kuwait had 32 projects, Lebanon with 25 projects, and Saudi Arabia with 24 projects.

In terms on volume, Saudi Arabia continued to dominate the charts on the Arab level with Syrian Pound (SYP) 103 billion, said the report. SYP one equals USD 0.02.

The report also indicated that the amount of foreign capital in Syria reached USD 900 million after it did not exceeded more than USD 180 million in 2003.

Finance projects saw an increase of 31 percent since 2008 with the number of projects reaching 273 projects with around SYP 210 billion pumped into in the projects.

Turkey topped investments which benefited from encouragement law with 41 projects worth SYP 18 billion. Kuwait had three projects in this category and the volume was at SYP 377 million.

Also Turkey topped foreign investors with 35 projects worth SYP 27 billion followed by Germany with 13 projects worth SYP 65.7 billion and the Iranian Investments in third with eight projects worth SYP 25.6 billion. –NNN-KUNA

Comments (1)


1. Majhool said:

Very positive news indeed.

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January 25th, 2010, 4:24 pm

 

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