Syria Unlikely to go to Attend Peace Conference

Ian Black Middle East editor, 25 September 2007, The Guardian

Syria is expected to rebuff an invitation from the US to attend a grand Middle East peace conference later this year because it does not believe that either the Bush administration or Israel wants to reach a comprehensive regional settlement.

President Bashar al-Assad has made no comment on Sunday's call by Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state. But diplomats said yesterday that the Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Mouallem, will decline the offer when he holds talks at the UN this week – unless he receives ironclad assurances that the event will be more substantial than currently appears likely….

Khaled Yacoub Oweis of Reuters, writes Syria plays down peace chance after Israel raid:

An Israeli raid on Syria has all but finished off chances for resuming peace talks between the two foes, Syrian officials said on Monday.

In the first clear reaction to the Sept 6. Israeli air strike, officials told Reuters Syria was wary of retaliating against Israel given the military superiority of the Jewish state and because of lack of Arab support.

Another reason was Damascus's changing relationship with Russia, an ally during the Communist era.

The officials were dismissive about any new peace talks, which collapsed in 2000 over the scope of an Israeli pullout from the Golan Heights, a 1,750 square km (676 square mile) plateau which the Jewish state captured from Syria in 1967.

"After this raid, you can forget about peace. It is no secret that our forces have been on alert for some time, but Syria will not be the first to start a war," said one of the Syrian officials, who asked not to be named.

"Arab states have not exactly rallied in our support. As for peace, the international picture could start changing late next year with a new administration in Washington," another official said.

Even Moscow, a strong backer of Syria in the days of the Soviet Union, did not directly condemn the Israeli action, in which Syria says planes bombed an empty area after air defence systems confronted them. Israel has not disclosed the target.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Sultanov advised Syrian officials not to go after Israel at the United Nations beyond a protest letter, according to a diplomat familiar with Sultanov's recent meetings in Damascus.

Comments (76)

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51. majedkhaldoun said:

I have question to the Israeli people, do they believe in ARMAGEDDON?, where it is going to occur?, I think it is going to be in palastine.
In Islam we believe God said,to the israeli,if you come back,we will be back too.
I think Ahmadinajad is coming with a message of peace,just like Sharon used to say,while he was killing palastineans, and recently ,foreign minister of France he talk about war,and call this a message of peace, politicians always say the opposite.

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September 26th, 2007, 4:49 am


52. Alex said:

Funny to read you discussing Syria’s long term foreign policy.

I just finished reading an opinion piece on Haaretz where they quickly tried to rescue us Syrian commentators here with a useful counter argument:

“Henry Kissinger used to say that Israel has no foreign policy, only internal politics. Listening to our politicians, you often indeed wonder whether any of them has any long-term strategy.”

But seriously, I agree with IDAF. The last two serious strategic deicsions Syria took were

1) In the mid 80’s when the Soviet Union disappeared, following the Egyptian Israeli peace treaty, Syria formally dropped the military option to liberate the Golan. No one noticed the shift because the Reagan administration did not care to make use of Syria’s strategic shift. It was only when James Baker and President Bush Sr. moved into the white house that we started to realize the possibilities… like Syria’s participation int he Kuwait liberation war followed by Syria’s participation in the Madrid conference …etc.

2) In 2004 Syria decided to hedge its alliances by getting closer to Turkey and Iran (everyone forgets Turkey for some reason) … partially at the expense of its relations with America’s favorite Arab allies.

The Saudi owned Arab press likes to see it as a Syrian mistake that demonstrates Bashar’s lack of experience.

It is simply a hedging strategy… Not intended to maximize desirable gains, but to minimize risks of being totally boycotted by America and all its freinds.

Otherwise … Syria stuck to its long term foreign policy. Take a Hafez Assad speech from 1990 and it will apply perfectly well today.


You are right that Bashar is facing challenging times. In his speech to the Syrian parliament few months ago he told his audience that he is expecting a very difficult year this year.

But his toughest challenge was in 2003-2005 … that’s when he realized that Chirac, King Abdullah, Mubarak, and Lebanon are now his enemies, not his allies.

Iran, Turkey, Russia, and Hamas + Hizbollah gave him back all the support he needs.

This can be a very annoying year, but unless Israel really decides to attack Syria, Bashar will play along until it is over. He will play along in Iraq, in Palestine, maybe attend the Mideast conference if they insist …

But Lebanon is where Bashar should feel threatened. For even if he decided to not do a thing (he will not of course) the Lebanese opposition will still insist on its agenda … America won’t like it and Syria will be blamed … Sarkozy will feel obliged to support the Americans in punishing Syria for Lebanon’s modified direction.

But there is still a good chance that a compromise can be reached. Hariri wants to be the next prime minister, Syria is not opposed to his candidacy… Syria knows Hariri is popular in Lebanon. But they need him to support a neutral president who can balance his M14 anti-Syria group.

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September 26th, 2007, 6:28 am


53. IsraeliGuy said:

“Well Israeliguy doesn’t the Israeli doctrine apply also to other countries doctrine “needs”?”

I believe it does – but in my opinion, only to democracies.

The odds that nuclear weapons will be used or trafficked in irresponsible ways by a democracy is very small.

The odds that nuclear weapons will be used or trafficked in irresponsible ways by dictatorships is much much higher.

Therefore, in my opinion, non democratic courtiers should not be allowed to hold nuclear weapons.

“Would Israeli planes fly in Arab countries airspace like their own if Arab countries had nukes? I doubt that. Would Israel be more willing to sign peace treaties with Arabs including a fair two state solution if Arabs had nukes?

Theoretical question yet an interesting one.
It’s not like they don’t have other types of WMD which can cause us devastating damage.

“Israel has not signed Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT)…”

True, but I believe you’re presenting the reality regarding WMD in the Middle East in a pretty selective way.

Israel signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, but didn’t ratify it yet.
Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq did not sign the treaty at all.

On the biological weapons front it’s vice versa: Israel did not sign the Biological Weapons Convention, while Syria, Egypt and UAE signed but didn’t ratify it yet.

In my opinion after the entire Middle East will become democratic and peace will be agreed between Israel and the Arab world, we will be able to get rid of all WMD throughout the region, because we won’t need it anymore.

“So it is not only a strategic threat for Arab countries, it is also a threat to EU, Russia, Iran and Turkish countries.”

I seriously doubt if the EU, Russia and Turkey see us as a threat.

“On the other hand Israeliguy Syria, Egypt etc could say that their doctrine with chemical and bacteriological weapon programs have worked well. Israel has not attacked them since 1973.”

Totally fine with me if they indeed see it this way.
By the way, we have peace with Egypt for a long time now, so in my opinion, that’s the main reason for them not to attack us and vice versa.

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September 26th, 2007, 8:29 am


54. IsraeliGuy said:

Here’s something interesting…

Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Kim Jong-il of North Korea “cooperate” in a new web campaign for Panasonic plasma TV in Israel.

Wanna see the ads?

Click on the link below.
It’s an Israeli shopping site.
You’ll see the banner on the left.

If it doesn’t show the Assad ad, refresh a couple of times until it will and you’ll get it.

This ad is all over the Israeli web.

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September 26th, 2007, 9:43 am


55. Akbar Palace said:

Ausamma asks:

Are you talking about the few hundreds of Atomic bombs Israel has?

BTW, has it done you guys any good so far? Or has “arming Israel to the teeth” done Israel any better?

WMD include not just nuclear weapons, but also chemical and biological weapons as well.

A number of democracies have WDMs, but they do not threaten to use them against other sovereign nations. And there have been regimes that are not democratic that have threatened to use WMDs against other countries or sell WMD to terrorist organizations.

IMHO, these are the countries that should not have WMD. Iraq, Iran, Syria, and North Korea are a small list of countries that should not have the right to obtain WMD.

Israel’s stockpile of WMD is their “insurance policy”. Israel has never threatened to use the weapons unless the survival of Israel is threatened. Israel has never threatened to “burn half of Iraq” or “wipe Iran or Syria off the map”.

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September 26th, 2007, 10:00 am


56. abraham said:

Akbar linked to an article by Farid Ghadry.


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September 26th, 2007, 10:35 am


57. abraham said:

All this talk about Syria being in a corner is silly. The strategy is simple: if the current options are not good and you’re backed into a corner, just wait. Eventually, the situation will change and doors will open where there weren’t any before. Only act when you absolutely have to.

A lot of people commenting here don’t have the first understanding of the Middle East. And less so about Syria.

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September 26th, 2007, 10:52 am


58. t_desco said:

This is great news, IMHO:

Syria willing to transfer disputed Shaba Farms to UN custody

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent

Syria is willing to transfer the Shaba Farms to the custody of the United Nations as part of an effort to resolve the sovereignty dispute over the area, which is currently under Israel’s control.

The new Syrian position was outlined in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon by Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, who visited Damascus last month.

Israeli political sources said Tuesday that Syria’s offer is meant to put pressure on Jerusalem, which opposes any withdrawal from Shaba at this stage.

Moratinos sent the letter to the UN secretary general two weeks ago, after discussing the matter with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

In it, Moratinos, who was the European Union’s special envoy to the Middle East before becoming Spain’s foreign minister, wrote that Syria is willing to transfer the area to UN custody even before the international border between it and Lebanon has been fully demarcated. The UN has been engaged in marking the border for the past year.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said last year that he would also like to see Shaba transferred to UN custody.

The Shaba Farms, situated in the foothills of Har Dov at the point where the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria converge, used to be part of the French Mandate in Syria and Lebanon. The border, which followed a 1923 agreement between Britain and France, was never precisely demarcated.

In May 2000, following Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon, the UN ruled that Shaba was part of the Golan Heights, and was therefore Syrian rather than Lebanese. It also said that Shaba’s future should be determined in negotiations between Israel and Syria.

However, Lebanon claimed that Shaba was within its sovereign territory, and this provided Hezbollah with a pretext for continuing its military operations against Israel, in order to liberate the “occupied territory.”

Following last year’s Second Lebanon War, the UN began marking the international border between Syria and Lebanon, mainly in order to resolve the dispute over which country actually owns Shaba. Israel’s position has been that there should be no discussion of Shaba’s future until the UN makes a final decision on precisely where this border lies.

“There is no change in Israel’s stance on the matter,” a source in the Prime Minister’s Bureau told Haaretz on Tuesday. “First, the demarcation of the border must be completed.”

Senior Foreign Ministry officials told a Moratinos aide who visited Israel last week that there should be no discussions on Shaba “at our expense.” They also warned that an Israel Defense Forces withdrawal from the area at this time would undermine Israel’s interests and constitute a “prize” for Syria’s ally, Hezbollah.

Israeli sources expressed dissatisfaction Tuesday at the fact that Spain did not officially inform Israel about the Moratinos letter to Ban Ki-moon. Israeli diplomats learned of its content by chance during talks at the UN.

The letter may contribute to the growing tension between Israel and Spain, initially sparked by a meeting Moratinos held with Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem. Following that meeting, a Moratinos visit to Israel that had been scheduled for earlier this month was postponed until October.

UN mapping expert Miklos Pinter, who has been busy delineating the border area near Shaba, visited Israel two weeks ago to meet his Israeli counterparts. Next month, the UN is expected to publish a new report on the situation between Israel and Lebanon, and Pinter’s findings may be included in the document.

Israeli officials are concerned that this report could spark renewed discussion of which country has sovereignty over Shaba Farms.

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September 26th, 2007, 10:52 am


59. abraham said:


Regarding the “Israeli doctrine” (acquisition of nukes as a deterrent), you said:

“I believe it does – but in my opinion, only to democracies.

The odds that nuclear weapons will be used or trafficked in irresponsible ways by a democracy is very small.”

Are you excluding Israel’s transfer of nuke technology to South Africa? Of course, this assumes Israel is a democracy, which it is plainly not.

“The odds that nuclear weapons will be used or trafficked in irresponsible ways by dictatorships is much much higher.”

I agree. Look at the actions of the US currently (yes, I am saying the US is run by a dictator, only he uses a more politically correct term: The Decider).

“Therefore, in my opinion, non democratic courtiers should not be allowed to hold nuclear weapons.”

I agree. You should lobby your country to dispose of its nuclear weapons and sign on to the NPT posthaste.

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September 26th, 2007, 11:27 am


60. idaf said:

Akbar said:
“democracies have WDMs, but they do not threaten to use them against other sovereign nations”

Yes Akbar they do not threaten to use them, they actually use them and not just threaten. Does Hiroshima and Nagasaki ring a bell? And by the way that was not an existential threat to the democracy that used WMDs at the time. Moreover, WMDs are being transferred and sold by democracies to non-democracies all the time. For example, Rumsfeld was responsible for selling biological and chemical agents that Saddam, wasn’t he? Saddam was even then encouraged by the US and its allies to use those WMDs against the Iranians to stop the “revolution” from spreading to US allies. Hence almost the only nation in the region that was actually scarred by WMDs (supplied by democracies mind you) was Iran.. and therefore any rational human being would understand why/if Iran wants to obtain WMDs. Can’t say the same about Israel. If you go back further to history, the use of WMDs in 20th century’s wars was almost exclusive to western democracies. Israel (which you claim is a democracy) also regularly uses WMDs. Just a year ago it infested Lebanon with millions of banned cluster bombs that will continue to kill children there for years to come. The same thing with the US in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So yes Akbar you are right the “non-democracies” may threaten to use WMDs, but they would not have the guts to use them, maybe unless their existence is threatened (same way with democracies) BUT it is the powerful democracies that actually produce and obtain WMDs and posses the arrogant self-righteous zeal to justify using them against the inferior non-democratic people and nations.
Your misleading argument is being used by the neo-cons for a while now. Which raises the following question: Are we witnessing the emergence of a form of neo-racism here, where the people living in superior democratic nations have the legitimacy to produce, sell and use WMDs against the inferior people living in non-democratic nations?!

Akbar continues:
“IMHO, these are the countries that should not have WMD: Iraq, Iran, Syria, and North Korea are a small list of countries that should not have the right to obtain WMD.”

But Akbar, I thought Iraq is a democracy now and therefore has already entered the club of the superior race that can obtain (and even use) WMDs!

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September 26th, 2007, 12:04 pm


61. SimoHurtta said:

I believe it does – but in my opinion, only to democracies.

The odds that nuclear weapons will be used or trafficked in irresponsible ways by a democracy is very low.

The odds that nuclear weapons will be used or trafficked in irresponsible ways by dictatorships is much much higher.

Therefore, in my opinion, non democratic courtiers should not be allowed to hold nuclear weapon

Well then all the world democratic countries should have nukes. What happens with “democratic” nukes when USA decides the change the democratically elected government to a dictatorship like in Greece and Chile. Would those new directorships have to donate their “democracy bombs” to USA?

On the other hand is Israel a democracy can be disputed. I do not think that a country with such religious basis, political structure and legislation which Israel has is a real democracy. A democracy for religious Jews, but not for others. Haredistan is no democracy. Name one single democracy which has the human rights record of Israel, has thousands of political prisoners, uses constantly torture and human shields in attacks, holds millions under its rule in style which make old slave owners envy, attacks constantly the neighbours etc. Haredistan is a religious directorship.

Come-on all nations have military doctrines. Democracies, the Jewish Homeland and directorships.

I seriously doubt if the EU, Russia and Turkey see us as a threat.

Well then you do not understand anything from politics and military. Why do you think that Israeli planes have threatened the German spy ship just near Israeli coastline? Why do you think that China has UN troops in Lebanon, when it doesn’t have them in other UN operations? Why has Russia listening stations in Syria? Why is Russia building (again) a naval station in Syria? The fact is that these foreign powers are gathering intelligence mainly from Israel and secondarily from Hizbollah etc.

As said before Israel has a military capacity far, far beyond defensive needs. For what reason Israeliguy? That is the relevant point.

In my opinion after the entire Middle East will become democratic and peace will be agreed between Israel and the Arab world, we will be able to get rid of all WMD throughout the region, because we won’t need it anymore.

Peace and having no WMD’s has nothing to do with democracy. If Israel would like Arab countries get faster democratic it would begin to solve problems instead of creating constantly new ones.

Do you seriously believe that Israel would give up its nukes and other WMD’s? Come-on. Israel’s economy and political position in the world is much build on the continuation of the violence and conflicts. Could you sell your military gadgets and your surveillance tools if you did not have the needed r&d and target shooting area with living targets in Palestine? Would Americans continue to pay your living costs?

Very interesting
Exclusive: Ynet reporter visits site of ‘Syria operation’

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September 26th, 2007, 12:17 pm


62. Friend in America said:

Sorry to be late in replying to the fine review of Syria’s foreign policy that you wrote. Perhaps I may have mistaken tactical moves for strategic. I, and hopefully others here, would appreciate a more extensive comment from you. Here is my perspective:

A case can be made that the #1 objective of the leadership in Damascus as self preservation. Not that this is unusual. It becomes the #1 objective for almost all authoritarian governments once the ideology has run thin. Self preservation in foreign affairs requires opportunism and flexibility (authoritarian regimes can apply repression internally but not externally so its foreign policy appears more like moves in a chess game). If so, self preservation results in an endless stream of tactical moves without any apparent consistency in policy.
As an aside, the ruling leadership in the parliaments of democratic countries will also act to preserve its posiiton and on occasions become preoccupied with self preservation. But they have to act out differently. Liberal and some moderate writers currently are accusing the former Republican congressional leadership from 2001 through 2005 as more interested in the preservation of its leadership than adhering to the better qualities of conservative fiscal policy.

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September 26th, 2007, 1:07 pm


64. why-discuss said:


The way I see it, there are mainly 2 scenarios.

The first: the Iranian program will NOT be confronted militarily.
I believe that in such a case, Syria will find itself in a very good position.

The second: the Iranian program will be confronted militarily.
In such a case, Syria will find itself in a very bad position.

Do you agree with the general tone of my assessment?

Yes, with some remarks:
In the first case it also depends on Iran’s level and psychological impact of their retaliation. If they are effective, then Syria comes out even stronger.

In addition there are third and fourth solutions:
– IAEA in december clears Iran from the accusation of WMD, thus nullifying the sanctions OR Iran accepts to stop their uranium production as requested by the UN resolution.
(less desirable by Israel and the US who could decide to strike before).

– The arabs pressures IAEA and the UN to start a campaign to clarify the Dimona nuclear facility in Israel, thus switching the focus on Israel WDM and decreasing pressure on Iran. (Also not desirable for Israel who prefer to play to leave doubts about the WDM , perceived as a deterrent to any major attack)

In december we would know..

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September 26th, 2007, 1:35 pm


65. EHSANI2 said:

A table of 180 countries places Syria at 138 in this study that ranks countries according to the perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts. Not surprisingly, the study finds a strong correlation between corruption and poverty. A score below three is an indication that corruption in that country is rampant.

Rather than reforming our corrupt public sector, things seem to be getting worse judging by the country’s latest score.

2007 = 2.4
2006 = 2.9
2005 = 3.4
2004 = 3.4
2003 = 3.4

Syria is tied with Pakistan, Ethiopia, Paraguay and Cameroon.

Scroll to the bottom of the link to access the full table and sources.

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September 26th, 2007, 2:14 pm


66. why-discuss said:

Hariri addressing neo-cons via Fox News: “It was not enough to get rid of Saddam, Bashar should have been removed too”

Hariri junior as the next lebanon’s prime minister?
With statements like this one that sounds so much like Bush junior bellicose statements, we are on for more years of conflicts in Lebanon!
His trust in the power of his money and in the US ability to handle the complexity of the area seems naive and dangerous.

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September 26th, 2007, 2:28 pm


67. Alex said:


Berri’s deal is to let them (M14) design their own government as they wish, but in return they agree to an independent president … not pro government (anti Syria) and not pro opposition.

There is just over one year left in this government’s time. This is a year of stagnation everywhere in the middle east … at best.

It will probably continue to be a year of stagnation in Lebanon as well … if they are lucky.

By the way, for those who are not paying attention, claims that Syria is closely guiding the Lebanese opposition can perhaps be questioned?… look at Nabih Berri sitting and smiling with Hariri who just called for the American forced removal of Bashar Assad.

And Berri (plus Hizbollah) will accept a Hariri led government … so it is not only the freedom to do superficial things.

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September 26th, 2007, 2:51 pm


68. EHSANI2 said:

Since some of the commentators discussed the corruption of Israeli public officials, it it interesting to note that the Jewish state actually ranks higher than all Arab countries when it comes to their public sector corruption. Set below is the list from the least to the most corrupt in our region:

Saudi Arabia

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September 26th, 2007, 2:58 pm


69. Alex said:

Ehsani! You traitor to the Arab cause!!

: )

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September 26th, 2007, 3:20 pm


70. EHSANI2 said:


In order to improve in life, you have to admit to your shortfalls first. There is no point hiding our heads in the sand. Our country’s position next to most of the African nations pains me.

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September 26th, 2007, 3:23 pm


71. Murphy said:

Note that the survey is concerned with ‘perceptions’ of corruption (whatever that is) not corruption itself.

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September 26th, 2007, 3:51 pm


72. Alex said:


1) I was joking. Please go ahead and list our shortfalls.
2) as Murphy pointed out above … don’t take these lists literally. Corruption in Syria is obviously nothing to be happy about. But these lists are too digital for my taste… and they are obviously based on perceptions since we don’t have reliable government data on corruption.

For example, the reason those perceptions are getting more negative (2.4 in 2007 instead of 3.4 few years ago) could be simply that now there are more expensive cars in Damascus and more big projects under construction … most people will look at those and say: “those bastards who have the money to buy these things … where did they get it from?”

So this “trend” is a trend in perceptions of corruption, not in actual corruption.

Which is good … that people are more sensitive to corruption.

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September 26th, 2007, 4:09 pm


73. JimR said:

Is there now a US-Israeli policy to emasculate the No-Dong missiles?

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September 26th, 2007, 4:15 pm


74. Ehsani2 said:

You are right that it is “perceptions” that are being measured.
“Reality” can be even better or worse, no?

You seem to believe that the perceptions are somehow wrong or inaccurate. Surely, you don’t think that corruption is not rampant, do you?

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September 26th, 2007, 6:03 pm


75. Alex said:

Corruption is rampant. Corruption is one of the top challenges for Syria as it tries to modernize its economy. I don’t see any serious effort to fight corruption.

But perceptions are perceptions… in 2003 corruption was as bad as it gets. Now few years later, I doubt it got any worse. I think the perception is related to seeing all the investments and luxury that were not there before … it is not that those people did not have money .. they simply had their money hidden in Lebanese bank accounts, and not invested in large projects in the middle of Damascus.

I know many friends who in 2003 were driving their family’s old (1985) Mazdas and Peugeots, but now have Hummers and BMW X5 SUVs… they did not steal any money. But the man on the street believes they did.

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September 26th, 2007, 6:11 pm


76. Ehsani2 said:


That was good. You are hard core

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September 26th, 2007, 6:19 pm


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