Sharaa Statement of Syria’s Foreign Policy

Sharaa delivered a loaded speech a few days ago, criticizing Saudi Arabia's foreign policy for being in a state of paralysis because it could neither act independently of the US nor influence US policy positively. He lamented the disunity and "disintegration" in the Arab world, attacked Arab countries that are establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and are thus creating a "rift" in the Arab world, and criticized Saudi Arabia, which, he said, is refusing to maintain good relations with Syria. For an English translation read Memri's summary of Sharaa's speech here. It is an important statement of where Syria stands and how it sees the foreign policies of not just Saudi Arabia, but also the US, Israel, Lebanon, and Iran. (If Memri is blocked in Syria, let me know and I will post the entire thing in English.)

The Saudis responded with an anti-Syrian blast of their own yesterday, claiming that Syria is the country without a proper policy in the region. The question that seemed to be bandied about was whose fault it was that Syrian-Saudi relations were so bad. Sharaa said that Syria wanted good relations, but that Saudi Arabia prevented them. He pointed to the recent Iraq security meeting in Damascus to which the Saudis had refused to send even a low level deputy.

An anonymous Saudi responded as follows:

“The government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has followed with great surprise the distasteful statements recently made by … Shara, which included numerous lies and fallacies aimed at harming us,” said the statement, quoting an unnamed official sourced and carried by the official Saudi Press Agency SPA late on Thursday.

“Talk about the paralysis of the kingdom’s Arab and Islamic role does not come from a rational and prudent person, as this role is well known to everyone … Perhaps Mr Shara had a slip of the tongue and meant by paralysis the policy he speaks for.”

"God willing, every Syrian and Saudi is keen on maintaining and strengthening this (Arab) brotherhood, despite the abominable voices and their owners who will vanish in the wind.”

This spat comes just as Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq is due to visit Damascus, where he will meet with top Syrian politicians. Saudi Arabia is not pleased with the Maliki government, which it accuses of being bad to Iraqi Sunnis and good to Iran and Shiites. Syria has complained about the same thing, but is nevertheless improving relations with Iraq. It hosted a security conference for Iraqis and neighbors a week ago. It cancelled an Iraqi opposition conference just before that.

Why is Syria engaged in this rapprochement right now?

Sami Moubayed has a very good article about Maliki's visit here. Even he seems a bit perplexed, as Maliki's government is not popular in Syria. Assad has given it a cold shoulder in the past. As Moubayed writes:

There are millions of Iraqis, mainly Sunnis, who do not trust either Maliki or the political system of the post-Saddam era. It is one thing for them when pro-American regimes recognize this government, but completely something else when this recognition comes from a credible neighbor like Syria; a country still seen in the eyes of millions as the only remaining champion of Arab nationalism and anti-Americanism.

Syria actually helped legitimize Maliki in the eyes of Iraqi skeptics. In March 2007, Syria attended a security meeting in Iraq, then followed up by attending the Sharm al-Sheikh summit in Egypt, which resulted in the much-publicized meeting between Moualem and Rice. The two officials discussed Iraq.  

I have long been doubtful that Syria would embrace US policy in Iraq by throwing its support behind Maliki's government. Here is why I think Syria is reversing its policy, even if only in part. It is only a guess. One is that Syria is indeed frightened by what Iraq might look like should Maliki's government collapse. It is anxious that greater chaos in Iraq will negatively impact Syria. Two is that Syria is using its pro-Iraq policy to break out of its diplomatic isolation, which is largely imposed by the US. Nevertheless, Sharaa was not kind to the US in his speech and all but dismissed US sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Abbas government in Palestine.

Syria has only recently begun to feel confident that it has won its battle against the US. It no longer sees destabilization by the US or economic strangulation as its number one foreign policy concern. It now feels reasonably confident that the US will begin pulling out of Iraq within a year, not only because the US military cannot sustain the numbers in Iraq, but because most presidential front runners in the US are talking about a US withdrawal, even if not immediately. This means that Syria, along with Iraq's other neighbors, will inherit the Iraq mess reasonably soon. It will also inherit the Maliki government for better or worse, if it hasn't collapse by then. Syria and Iran would probably prefer to inherit the Maliki government than any of its alternatives. I am not sure Saudi Arabia has made this calculation yet. In any event, Syria calculates that cooperating with the Maliki government even if it does collapse can no longer do it any harm.

Having a relatively weak Shiite coalition government in place in Iraq is better for Syria than chaos.

Saudi Arabia's position toward the Maliki government is unclear. Some Saudi officials have indicated that their government will support Sunni Iraqi militias against a Shiite led government that is pro-Iranian. Syria has indicated that it could pursue such a policy as well in the past. It has give asylum to Sunni opposition members and hosted Iraqi opposition group meetings. This common Saudi-Syrian policy of favoring Iraq's Sunnis led me to conjecture in the past that once the US pulled out of Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia would work toward elaborating a common pro-Sunni policy in Iraq. Saudi Arabia's refusal to send a delegate to the security conference in Damascus argues against this interpretation. Perhaps a reason for Sharaa's evident anger at SA's refusal is because Syria has been counting on a Saudi-Syrian rapprochement as the US prepares to withdraw from Iraq. Whether his outburst was motivated by differences over Lebanon, Iraq, or a combination of the two, I cannot say.

Syria has positioned itself between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Iraq. Iran and Syria do not see eye to eye on the future of Iraq. Sharaa, referring to Syria's relations with Iran, said that Iran's position on Iraq differs from that of Syria, which wants "a united, independent, and Arab" Iraq. But it has been silent on an Iraq controlled by Shiites. This is because Syria understands that Iraq will largely be controlled by Shiites in the future. Saudi Arabia does not seem to have entirely come to grips with this fact. Saudi Arabia's anti-Shiite policies, whether in Iraq or Lebanon present a major obstacle to improved Syrian-Saudi relations.

Here is Moubayed's summation of the history and reasons for improved relations between the two countries:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is scheduled to arrive in Damascus for a two-day visit on Monday. This will be his first visit to the Syrian capital – where he lived as a refugee in the 1990s during the Saddam Hussein years – since becoming prime minister in April 2006.

Maliki is due to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Otari, Parliament Speaker Mahmud al-Abrash, Vice President Farouk al-Shara and Foreign

Minister Walid al-Moualem. They are to discuss security and the political situation in Iraq.

Syria, which was reluctant at first to welcome the Iraqi leader, finally approved his visit, stressing that talks must deal with reconciliation, fair and balanced political representation of the Sunnis, amending the de-Ba'athification laws and articles in the Iraqi constitution that deal with federalism – a concept that the Syrians curtly refuse.

These were not conditions, the Syrians stated, but points of discussion. Moualem was quoted saying that his country "looks for finer political, security and economic relations with Iraq". The US has not commented on the visit, but if it produces results, then this is good news for the Bush White House.

After visiting Tehran this month, Maliki was scrutinized by President George W Bush, who said: "My message to him is, when we catch you playing a non-constructive role [with the Iranians], there will be a price to pay." This was in reference to Maliki's statement that Iran is playing a "positive and constructive" role in "providing security and fighting terrorism in Iraq".

Syria started to reconcile with the Maliki regime in late 2006. This came shortly after British prime minister Tony Blair sent an envoy to Damascus, telling the Syrians that it was in the international community's best interest that Syria recognizes – and supports – Maliki and the political system in Iraq.

Syria had tried before – during the era of prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (Maliki's predecessor) – and invited him to Damascus, but the visit was vetoed by the US administration. The US, in 2003-06, had blamed the Syrians for all of the worries in Iraq, claiming that Syria was keeping lax security on the border and helping – or turning a blind eye to – insurgents crossing the border to fight the Americans. Syria repeatedly denied the charges.

By 2006, and after the Iraqi Study Group report in the US, it was clear to the US that the violence was not produced, nor supported by, the Syrians. Syria, however, could help control it. Blair's envoy had been to Washington DC and met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who seconded the British approach towards Syria. Syria responded promptly. It sent Moualem to Baghdad, where he received a red carpet welcome from Maliki, and opened up an embassy in Iraq.

Just for the record, here is the Saudi part of Sharaa's speech which set off the most recent round of the Syrian-Saudi feud. Sharaa spells it out very bluntly … The Mecca agreement was done in Damascus but the Saudis asked Syria if it was OK if they could announce it in Mecca.

وقال، ردا على سؤال حول العلاقات السورية ـ السعودية، إن للمملكة «دورا مهما في المنطقة، وفي التضامن العربي والعلاقات العربية العربية، والعربية ـ الإسلامية»، مضيفا «هذا الدور الهام للسعودية شبه مشلول الآن بكل أسف، ولا اعرف الأسباب»، ولكن المعطيات تؤكد أن «هذا التقييم ليس بعيدا عن الواقع». وأعطى الشرع مثلين، الأول يتعلق باتفاق مكة بين حماس وفتح، الذي «تم إنجازه في دمشق حيث جرت اجتماعات غير معلنة بين القيادة السورية ورئيس السلطة الفلسطينية محمود عباس وقيادة حماس، وفي مقدمتها السيد خالد مشعل». وأوضح انه تم الاتفاق بعد إنجاز الموضوع على أن يتم الإعلان عنه في السعودية بناء على رغبتهم، ووافقت سوريا وقال «تم الاتفاق على ضرورة العمل على رفع الحصار عن الشعب الفلسطيني وإخراج المسؤولين في حكومة حماس والمجلس التشريعي الأسرى في سجون إسرائيل» إلا أن أيا من هذا لم يحصل. وتساءل الشرع «لماذا لم يحصل هذا الأمر؟. إما أن الولايات المتحدة لم تستمع إلى حليفتها التقليدية في المنطقة، أي السعودية، أو أن السعودية ليست في وضع تستطيع عبره أن تتابع مستلزمات ومتطلبات هذا الاتفاق». وأشار الشرع إلى أن المثال الثاني هو عدم مشاركة الرياض في اجتماعات دول جوار العراق في دمشق الأسبوع الماضي. وقال «كان يمكن للسعودية أن تحضر عبر موظف بسيط في السفارة، ولو كان لديها بعض التحفظات، ولكن كان هناك تعمد أن يترك مقعدها شاغرا». وأضاف الشرع «نحن نرغب بعلاقات أخوية ممتازة وقوية واستراتيجية مع السعودية، لكننا لا نستطيع أن نفرض ذلك، لأن العلاقات بين الدول تحتاج إلى رغبة بين الجانبين»، معتبرا أن الخلل «في هذه العلاقة ليس من قبل سوريا، إذ ليس من المعقول أن يضحى بعلاقة تاريخية عمرها 36 سنة ولم يحصل خلالها أي سوء تفاهم».

The Saudis responded to Syria's claim that it had confected the PLO-Hamas cohabitation in these words: “Shara’s claim that the Mecca agreement … had been agreed in Damascus is an unforgivable insult to the Palestinian leaderships,” the Saudi statement said.

Addendum: (Sunday August 19, 2007) from AP:

DAMASCUS, Syria: Syria said Saturday that recent comments by the country's vice president reputedly criticizing Saudi Arabia were misreported, an attempt to quell growing tension over the remarks.

Saudi Arabia lashed out at Syria on Thursday after Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa reportedly said the kingdom — the Mideast's key Sunni power player — had become semi-paralyzed and was to blame for Palestinian infighting.

But Syria's official SANA news agency quoted an unnamed official Saturday as denying al-Sharaa criticized Saudi Arabia. Instead, he stressed his country's desire to heal the rift with Riyadh.

"The brotherhood between the Syrian and Saudi people is a real one that has withstood different crises … and Syria is aimed at reviving Arab solidarity and strengthening it to serve the national and pan-Arab interest," the official was quoted as saying.

Comments (75)

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51. norman said:

Bakri , most of the killing in Iraq is done by your fellow Sunnis ( Al qaeda) , most the millions in the region are with Syria and Hezbollah not with the defeatist The Saudis , Jordanians and Egyptians.

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August 19th, 2007, 3:17 am


52. Bakri said:

Norman,why did you forget Iran ?Dont forget the song ,Syria,Iran and Hezballah.should i add the middle eastern christians in that equation ?

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August 19th, 2007, 3:22 am


53. Majhool said:


No one is venting here, I am actually listening great Bossa-Nova music and sipping beer and munching on “fosto2”..tfadalli. It’s kind of sad that if one seeks improvement it’s assumed that one is venting!!!

You also assmumed somehow, that I am pro regime change “American style” let me assure you that I am not. In fact i would rather Bashar ( President Dr. Bashar el- Assad el mufadda tez3ali) to remain the president for the end of his term and even for an additional one if he does the right things.

I belief that uncoditional support is counter productive and needs to be replaced with conditional support. Simply put, we have to keep rehashing the fact that they suck and that they need to do better. I call that accountablity.

THe lack of accountablity is something that indeed upsets my peace. I do analyze the situation objectively and no matter how i spin it i always come to the conclusion that the only viable solution is to creat an acountable system in Syria.rebuild faith in the system and get everyone to help out. I see that lacking today. Also, you base all your assumptions that somehow the intentions of the regime are indeed good and in-line with people’s interest. I believe that need to be verified.

Power will always be abused if not checked. and if you could please point out an objective mechanisim to do so then i will be greatful.

If the label a supporter of a dictator bothers you, then kindly provide me with your definition of a dictator and point out to me how Assad is not one then i will accept it.

My definition is that if you support a system that puts the country’s intellectuals in prison, and intentionally keeps emergency laws in the country for 40+ years only to stay in power then you are indeed a dictator lover.

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August 19th, 2007, 3:42 am


54. Majhool said:

There is a lot of Sunni Bashing in this site (Norman & Ausamma). this is disturbing coming out od Pro-Syrian Regime commentators. Syria’s Majoriy is sunni. makes one you wonder how representative the “regime” is. Alex, I say this agitates confessional tensions and should not be published.

Alex, bisharafak, could you you please recommend a word to use instead of “regime” I am tired of using it however it cannot be “goverment” since goverment autocrats have no real power and they are not the ones in question. Thanks..

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August 19th, 2007, 3:51 am


55. norman said:

Bakri , Add Hamas.

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August 19th, 2007, 4:00 am


56. norman said:

Majhool , Nobody against the Sunni or any other group , You and Bakri seem to look at everything as Sunni VS everybody else except the US , Apparently you like what it is doing to the Palestinians , stop dividing the Syrian between Sunni and Shaia and Christians and others and start addressing your complains and your solutions ,Corruption in Syria not limited to the Shaia , Christians but involves Sunni too ,Most known one is Khadam , the problem is lack of accountability and that come from a single party System that needs to change but first political maturity needs to take hold where the advancement of the country is more important than ones self interest.

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August 19th, 2007, 4:14 am


57. Bakri said:

Norman ,again this the problem with the people suffering from the minority complex of course not all the christians are like that ,you are very changeable and not honnest with your compatriots.if you were a palestinian christian you would be anti hamas for sure.

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August 19th, 2007, 4:21 am


58. Majhool said:

Norman, I am going to ingnore your meaningless and false accusations plus let me assure you that khaddam (yet another thug) does not represent the sunni community in any way shape way or form and let me reminde you that Khaddam is a mere product of the Assad system.

I am going to welcome your acknowledgment that the problem is the lack of accountablity , the one party system, and let me add also the police state style governing.

We differ in that I believe the regime fights in all ways possible any opportunity for the society to develope that poltical maturnace that you seek. they imprison the intellectuals ( are they also not mature?) denies civil socity organaizations from being effective and does not allow for leaderships to emerge unless it’s crroupt and loyal.

They seek for the status quo to remain in effect. basically either the police state or ubrupt chaos.

How about if they start lifting emergency laws gradually, let’s say one muhafaza at a time to ensure that judicial/police could fill the vaccum? if one can demonstrate to me that we are actively seeking this goal then I am all on board.

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August 19th, 2007, 4:36 am


59. Alex said:

So I came back home after listening to lots of Bossa Nova, like my friend Majhool.

Majhool: where is the insult in what I said? … some people agree with Bashar’s support of Hamas and Iraqi Sunnis and Hizbollah, but they hate him anyway … because he is an Alawite and becasue he is the son of Hafez Asaad. Is this wrong?

I did not say that ALL those who dislike Bashar are from this type. I started my list (of types) with those who dislike Bashar because he leads an authoritarian regime.

I know you would love to believe that ALL those who hate Bashar are democracy lovers who are secular, open minded, future democrats .. but the fact is, they are not ALL from this type.

Bakri, I like how you are not trying to be too politically correct anymore… just a little bit.

So let me remove the remaining thin polish from your recent comments and then reply to your rough warning:

You are basically saying that you can’t wait to see the day when the Sunnis will take over Syria so that those Christians who sided so publicly with the Alawites (the other insignificant minority) because they were scared from a potentially extreme Sunni majority rule, will pay the price for their choices.

You know, Syrian Christians do not have any piece of the pie under Bashar’s leadership .. Hafez used to have some influential Christian advisors .. now there is no one.

Do we care? .. not really. Syrian Christians are overwhelmingly pro Bashar (not necessarily the regime)

This is a time when the whole Middle East can possibly blow up in your face (I am in Canada)… Syrian Christians are concerned with regional stability and with the way Muslims in the area are becoming more susceptible to Saudi Wahabi influence or to Iranian religious extremism.

Let me explain to you our “minority complex” … we believe in the separation of state and religion … anything else in the Middle East will lead to conflicts… We don’t want Syria to end up another Saudi Arabia or Iran.

The authoritarian regime we have today is light years ahead of you in that respect. Your politically correct statements of respecting minorities (from few months ago) morphed into threats to those of us who have “minority complex”

Last month Bilal (another polite “majority” democracy lover) ended up writing “let them go to hell … and they WILL go to hell” .. that was in reference to those who were drinking wine in a restaurant near the Umayyad mosque.

One last important point: your types are not really the majority … I believe that a majority of Syrian Sunnis is much more tolerant. You come from a 15% to 25% extremist minority … some of you know exactly what you stand for and you proudly announce it publicly .. others (like you and Bilal) like to believe that you are civilized and westernized and open minded… you are not.

If you think that you are a majority, it is because only the angry ones (like you) are vocal… The satisfied ones are not interested in politics … they are either watching Nanci Ajram or busy earning their living.

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August 19th, 2007, 5:53 am


60. Bakri said:

The satisfied ones are not interested in politics … they are either watching Nanci Ajram or busy earning their living

Yes Alex this is an another proof that show the enemity towards the syrian culture which is basicaly Sunni muslim and Middle eastern christian that add more validity to what i said above that’s why the alawite regime is working hard to promote this kind of culture amongst the syrians and is trying to propagate shia’ism with the help of the iranian regime amonsgt the poor isolated shawaya of northern badia.But dont be happy with it ,because the most dangerous people for you are the reverted ,be sure that they will not be nancy’s or haifa’s fans for long time in their lives.

asad is not eternal ,we the people are.

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August 19th, 2007, 6:12 am


61. Alex said:


There will always be people busy earning their living, and there will always be people who prefer to download the latest sexy pop star mp3 instead of spending Saturday night discussing politics … we can’t blame everything on the regime.

Anyway, here is the latest headline:

مصدر مسؤول يعرب عن أسفه لما جاء فى بيان المصدر المسؤول فى حكومة المملكة العربية السعودية بشأن تصريحات منسوبة للسيد الشرع

And with that clarity, we can all leave it to “them” to communicate.

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August 19th, 2007, 6:25 am


62. Bakri said:

Alex ,this is the kind of moslems you like ,depraved weak corrupted ….say it clearly…..à la Tlass

This show the level of your hatred towards Islam in general ….and as you know ,we are the most tolerant muslim in the world and you are fearing us….Alex you have no future in Syria ..

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August 19th, 2007, 6:30 am


63. Alex said:


I have no future in Syria, you are right. I am in Canada.

The Muslims I like? … how about our friend here Ford Prefect? … Rime Allaf? Murhaf Jouejati? Bashar Assad? Imad Moustapha?

I like them all.

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August 19th, 2007, 6:37 am


64. Alex said:

Arab officials tell Israel that Syria is not planning to attack
By Amos Harel, Barak Ravid and Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondents

Two friendly Arab countries have told Israel that Syria is not planning to attack in the coming months. The messages were relayed by senior-level officials and are based in part on talks with the officials’ Syrian counterparts.

This is part of a broader effort by moderate Arab states to contain the tension emerging between Jerusalem and Damascus.

Meanwhile, Syria has received 10 batteries of advanced anti-aircraft missiles, Russian sources say. This is the first in a series of shipments that are to include 36 such batteries.

The anti-aircraft missiles are part of a $900 million arms deal, Moscow’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported Friday, citing Russian military industry sources.

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August 19th, 2007, 6:37 am


65. Bakri said:

Alex,dont pollute these names with bashar’s name ,it does blotch.

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August 19th, 2007, 6:45 am


66. Bakri said:

Alex but this not your fault,you are not free to say openly what you think because they know your true name ,the best you can is to play the tightrope walker.
In my opinion , the architect of an intelligent project as Creative Syria cant be so easy going.

Your case is understandable and personnaly i have nothing against you.

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August 19th, 2007, 7:03 am


67. Alex said:


They also know Rime Allaf’s name. She is now enjoying her summer vacation in Syria. She wrote some of the harshest criticism of the regime and of Bashar personally.

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August 19th, 2007, 7:22 am


68. Bakri said:

Alex ,it is unpredictable with this regime ,we are all potential targets,you know what in the end was the destiny of brave syrians of inside …for example michel kilo and friends.

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August 19th, 2007, 7:39 am


69. Bakri said:

Dear Alex,

Some mistakes in mideastimage old aleppo’s gallery.

The pics above show Sheikh Abu Bakr Tkiyeh , and not Al Firdous Madrassa

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August 19th, 2007, 10:47 am


70. Bakri said:

The beautiful complex with copolas (sufi zawya of the kilani sheikhs ,palaces and with norias)see it in the first page of mideastimage ,the alawites militias of hafez ans rifaat killed nearly 300 of Kilani familly members ,the palaces ,the zawya and the norias and all the district were razed to ground in 1982.

Another beautiful view of the kilani quarter taken by the french jesuit Joseph Delore in 1925 from the citadel of Hama.

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August 19th, 2007, 11:11 am


71. Alex said:

Thanks Bakri. You are right at least with the second photos I listed as al Fardos Madrasa. It is indeed the Sheikh Abu Bakr Tkieh. You might be right for the first photo too.

As for Hama … yes, it is sad that we lost many wonderful people and places.

But we need to learn the right lesson and move on … even Geagea and Jumblatt (not the wisest people) are now allies after each killed over 10,000 of the other’s people. I’m sure we can do better.

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August 19th, 2007, 4:52 pm


72. Majhool said:

I read sunnis-christians-alawite quite a lot here and it botheres me.

These are big religious communities and unless an overwhilming majority are in support of a leader/homogeneous political position for example Shia and alwaite communities in Lebanon/Syria respectively we should not lump the entire community to bunch of extremists. This particually the case among Christians and Sunnis they don’t adhere to one kind of politics and it would be a grave mistake to tie them all Qayda, Bashar lovers, etc..

Also let’s try to add the word community before suuni, alwite, etc..


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August 19th, 2007, 5:17 pm


73. Alex said:


Fine but ..

مشان الله خلصلنا المقالة المنتظرة

: )

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August 19th, 2007, 5:23 pm


74. Majhool said:

will be ready in 3 hours..

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August 19th, 2007, 5:30 pm


75. Bakri said:

Bro i’m sure both are Sheikh Abu Bakr,in al Fardous Madrassa the minaret is build above the iwan and the building is homogeneous and symmetric.And in the picture look at the windows ,it’s clearly ottoman architecture…al Fardous is Ayyoubi.

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August 20th, 2007, 10:43 am


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