Posted by Joshua on Friday, April 11th, 2008
Bushra al-Assad, the President's sister and wife of security chief Asef Shawkat, has not asked for refugee status in France, authorities told As-sharq al-Awsat newspaper. The Kuwaiti newspaper "Assiyaseh" and National Salvation Front boss Abdel Halim Khaddam have been insisting that the Syrian presidential family is a daggers drawn and that Bushra is seeking political asylum in France while her husband, Shawkat, is under house arrest in Damascus.
The following paragraph is taken from one of those "intelligence circulars" that companies pay lots of money for:
Syria initiated secret contacts with the Bush administration last month under the auspices of Turkey. The Syrian side that met with American envoys in Ankara was headed by military intelligence boss Assef Shawkat, brother-in-law of president Bashar al Assad. But in proposing to withdraw Syrian support from Hezbollah in Lebanon for two years in return for a freeze on preparatory work for the future International Penal Tribunal on the assassination of Rafic Hariri Shawkat was accused by the regime’s stalwarts in Damascus of overstepping his powers. If accepted, his proposal would have been tantamount to breaking Syria’s strong ties with Tehran. Disavowed, Shawkat is being gradually eclipsed by the chief of the Presidential Guard and brother of the president, Maher al Assad. Rivalry has long simmered between the two. An inquiry into the assassination of the head of Hezbollah’s external security chief, Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus on Feb. 12 was assigned to a close associate of Maher, Hafez Makhlouf, who is also a cousin of president al Assad on his mother’s side. Another figure close to Maher, general Mohamed Mansoura, alias Abu Jassem, chief of the Political Security department, could shortly replace Bassam Abdul-Majid as interior minister. General Amine Charabi, head of the “Palestine” section – known as section 253 – at the Military Intelligence department, has been assigned to monitoring the work of the future International Penal Tribunal. The key figure in Syria’s counter-espionage service, Charabi will see that Damascus hires the best lawyers to defend Syrian suspects.
As far as I can tell, this speculation is based on fabrications presented by Khaddam and Assiyaseh. These rumors seem to be part of a concerted effort to increase psychological, diplomatic, judicial, economic and even military pressure on Syria in order to keep the Lebanon issue on the front burner. Previously, the US and Saudi Arabia sought to use the Arab Summit as leverage to force Syria to abandon Hizbullah. Syria accepted the rubbishing of the summit in order to stand by Hizb and the Lebanese opposition. After all, nothing positive was being offered Syria to put the squeeze on the Lebanese opposition and to allow March 14 to take Lebanon out of Syria's sphere of influence. Hizbullah is too valuable to Syria. Despite their best efforts Washington and Saudi have failed to convince Syria or Hizbullah to allow for a pro-March 14 government to function in Lebanon.
Pretending that the Assad family is at daggers drawn is but a method to prevent all sides from engaging with Syria. It would be natural for European and Arab countries to re-engage Syria if Washington's efforts fail. Failure is exactly what Washington seems to be looking at. But, if foreign capitals can be made to believe that Damascus is in disarray and the Assad household on the verge of collapse, the calculus of engagement changes. Foreign dignitaries will stay away from Damascus.
Israeli military maneuvers and daily articles about the likelihood of war between Israel and either Hizbullah or Syria augment the psychological pressure on Syria and will delay thinking about engagement. So do reiterations that the international tribunal is making political connections between Syria and Hariri's assassins. The international tribunal seems is the only card the US still has up its sleeve, but little suggests that there is much more than circumstantial evidence linking Syria to the assassins.
The Lebanese opposition have offered a new deal to the March 14th bloc to resolve the presidential crisis. Both Nabih Berri and Michel Aoun are offering to elect Michel Suleiman as President and to drop their demand for a larger share of cabinet members if the March 14 group agrees to carry out elections according to the 1960 electoral law. The Daily Star writes:
The Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun was quoted as proposing on Friday that the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, lead an interim Lebanese government that would oversee the 2009 parliamentary elections. George Arraj of the Liberal Tigers group, a faction that separated from the National Liberal Party, told reporters that he discussed with Aoun on Friday the idea of Suleiman heading an interim government.
Meanwhile, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri told As-Safir newspaper on Friday that the opposition was ready to forego bargaining over the shape of the next government if the March 14 Forces agree to adopt the 1960 electoral law in the 2009 parliamentary elections.
Berri said he recently told former President Amin Gemayel the opposition is ready to "forgive the majority regarding the unity government issue" in return for a written commitment that the majority would not mind adopting the 1960 law.
Berri said that opposition groups Hizbullah and Amal have been open to all sorts of proposals regarding the electoral law.
"Despite the fact that we prefer larger electoral constituencies, we have decided to accept the 1960 law in order to satisfy Bkirki and to secure the rights of Christians," Berri said. "Those who object to the 1960 law want to secure 46 MPs without having to head to election."
"They want to guarantee that MP Saad Hariri would have the largest parliamentary bloc. They can only do that through the 2000 electoral law," Berri added.
The 2000 electoral law, which also governed the 2005 elections, gives the anti-Syrian March 14 Forces the upper hand in electoral constituencies in Beirut and the North.
The opposition earlier proposed adopting the 1960 electoral law in the next parliamentary elections, but the ruling coalition has turned down the opposition's demand.
مصادر فرنسية لـ«الشرق الأوسط»: بشرى الأسد لم تتقدم بطلب لجوء.. وهي في بلد عربي
لندن: «الشرق الأوسط» وبحسب المعلومات المتوافرة فإن السيدة بشرى الأسد كانت تتردد على العاصمة الفرنسية وعلى مدينة نيس الساحلية. وتربط اللواء آصف شوكت «علاقات عمل» مع بعض المسؤولين الفرنسيين من بينهم أمين عام القصر الجمهوري كلود غيون منذ كان يشغل فيه منصب مدير مكتب وزير الداخلية (آنذاك) نيكولا ساركوزي، وذلك حتى وقت قصير من موعد الانتخابات الرئاسية الفرنسية في مايو (أيار) الماضي. «علاقات عمل» مع بعض المسؤولين الفرنسيين من بينهم أمين عام القصر الجمهوري كلود غيون منذ كان يشغل فيه منصب مدير مكتب وزير الداخلية (آنذاك) نيكولا ساركوزي، وذلك حتى وقت قصير من موعد الانتخابات الرئاسية الفرنسية في مايو (أيار) الماضي. «علاقات عمل» مع بعض المسؤولين الفرنسيين من بينهم أمين عام القصر الجمهوري كلود غيون منذ كان يشغل فيه منصب مدير مكتب وزير الداخلية (آنذاك) نيكولا ساركوزي، وذلك حتى وقت قصير من موعد الانتخابات الرئاسية الفرنسية في مايو (أيار) الماضي. «علاقات عمل» مع بعض المسؤولين الفرنسيين من بينهم أمين عام القصر الجمهوري كلود غيون منذ كان يشغل فيه منصب مدير مكتب وزير الداخلية (آنذاك) نيكولا ساركوزي، وذلك حتى وقت قصير من موعد الانتخابات الرئاسية الفرنسية في مايو (أيار) الماضي.
لندن: «الشرق الأوسط»«الشرق الأوسط»كذبت مصادر فرنسية رفيعة المستوى المعلومات التي أفادت بأن بشرى الأسد، شقيقة رئيس الجمهورية السورية، وزوجة اللواء آصف شوكت، موجودة في فرنسا، أو أنها قد تقدمت بطلب للجوء السياسي الى فرنسا، أو أن طلبها رفض. وقالت ذات المصادر الرسمية، ردا على سؤال لـ«الشرق الأوسط» عن هذه المعلومات إنها «تنفي نفيا قاطعا هذه المعلومات». وأفادت هذه المصادر بأن السيدة بشرى الأسد «موجودة في بلد عربي»، غير أنها امتنعت عن تسمية هذا البلد.
وبحسب المعلومات المتوافرة فإن السيدة بشرى الأسد كانت تتردد على العاصمة الفرنسية وعلى مدينة نيس الساحلية. وتربط اللواء آصف شوكت «علاقات عمل» مع بعض المسؤولين الفرنسيين من بينهم أمين عام القصر الجمهوري كلود غيون منذ كان يشغل فيه منصب مدير مكتب وزير الداخلية (آنذاك) نيكولا ساركوزي، وذلك حتى وقت قصير من موعد الانتخابات الرئاسية الفرنسية في مايو (أيار) الماضي.
The National Salvation Front, led by Abdal Halim Khaddam and Ali Sadraddine Bayanouni, is lauching a satalite TV station to be named, "The New Syria."
Shortly after an office for the NSF was opened in Washington a year ago, word began to spread that Khaddam was not financing it with his own money and that it was being maintained with only $10,000 a month, which wasn't enough money to pay for salaries. The Washington lobbyest who was retained left the organization after 3 months and supposedly began to work for the Palestinian Authority instead. Khaddam's was unwillingness to spend large amounts of money led many to believe that he was not really committed to the effort and had little faith in it.
Now, it seems, a new effort is being made to get the office moving with new money is being committed to the effort. The following story in Arabic explains:
أعلنت جبهة الخلاص الوطني السورية المعارضة عن عزمها إطلاق قناة فضائية باسم "سورية الجديدة" خلال الأسابيع القادمة، تبث من خارج البلاد، وتهدف بشكل أساسي "فضح جرائم النظام السوري" وفق لبيان إطلاق القناة
والجبهة التي يتزعمها عبد الحليم خدام النائب السابق المنشق للرئيس السوري، وعلي صدر الدين البيانوني المراقب العام لجماعة الإخوان المسلمين المحظورة في سورية، وينضوي تحت رايتها عدة أحزاب سورية معارضة في الخارج، أوضحت أن القناة الفضائية ستكون ناطقة باسم الجبهة، وستبث برامج لـ "فضح جرائم النظام"، بالإضافة إلى برامج لـ "شرح أهداف وخطة عمل الجبهة"، كما ستقدم مقابلات وندوات حوار مع شخصيات سياسية ومفكرين مثقفين بالإضافة إلى برامج وثائقية وترفيهية
The Economist Intelligence Unity writes:
The Ministry of the Interior has announced that a new system for rationing the supply of subsidised diesel heating fuel for households would go into effect from April 12th. The system will entail the holder of the household ration card to obtain the monthly allocationÔÇöbased on an annual ration of 1,000 litres per householdÔÇöfor a period of 15 days at the subsidised price of SP 7 (15 US cents) per litre. This price is about 10% of the price paid for diesel in neighbouring countries, and the heavy subsidy has fostered smuggling on a large scale. The rationing so far appears to be restricted to consumption of diesel for domestic use. Considerable amounts of diesel are also consumed for road transport and for agricultural machinery. It has also not been made clear whether households will be entitled by buy more diesel once they have used up their monthly ration, and, if so, at what price. Earlier plans for a gradual increase in diesel prices across the board, linked to compensation payments for poorer households, seem to have been dropped.
The government has also increased gasoline prices for the second time in five months. The new gasoline price of SP 40 (83 US cents) per litre went into effect on March 22nd. This marked an 11% increase on the previous price of SP 36/litre, which came into force in November 2007 following a 20% price hike. The latest increase was broadly in line with the rise in world oil prices over the intervening period, Syria relies on imports for about 20% of its annual consumption of some 2.5bn litres/year of gasoline. However, this only represents about one-sixth of Syria's total petroleum products consumption, and gasoline prices in Syria are relatively high (the new price is equivalent to about US$3.1 per US gallon). By contrast, diesel accounts for some 50% of petroleum products consumption.
Over the past several months, Syrian authorities have engaged in a harsh campaign of repression against leading dissidents and human rights activists. The crackdown, overshadowed by developments elsewhere in the region, has received scant media coverage in the U.S. and Europe. To shed light on recent developments in the Syrian political scene, USIP recently convened a public discussion on human rights in Syria, featuring the Institute's Radwan Ziadeh, Mona Yacoubian, and Steven Heydemann, and Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch. This USIPeace Briefing summarizes their presentations and the subsequent discussion.
USIP Senior Fellow Radwan Ziadeh's account of the current situation in Syria underscored that the regime often uses national security concerns as a pretext to silence all forms of dissent. Placing recent repression in historical context, Ziadeh noted that government repression of political and human rights activists has come in several waves in the past decade.
Damascus has had a corner in conversions for 2,000 years, since Saul of Tarsus saw the light and metamorphosed into St Paul the Apostle. I too underwent a transformation on the road to Damascus, not Pauline exactly, but definitely opinion-changing. My revelation was Syria.
RAND researchers Cheryl Benard and Ed O'Connell have been to the far points of the Muslim world as a part of developing the think tank's Alternative Strategy Initiative, which addresses the effects of extremism and sectarianism on those too often are hiding in plain sight: youth, women and refugees. But after a recent trip to Syria where they found themselves happening one night upon an unsettling and perception-busting TV program, they went back there to find out how a director in a country known for defending terrorism could produce "entertainment" that portrayed quite the opposite. They tell Malibu Magazine their story.
Oxford Business Group: The World Bank's Knowledge Economy Index, released at the end of March, showed that Lebanon had fallen 16 places in the global rankings to 66th out of 140, and had slumped four rungs on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) ladder to eighth out of the 17 regional countries surveyed.
Malek Jandali, Composer & Pianist, has just released a new album named, "Echoes from Ugarit." Give it a listen at his site. http://www.malekjandali.com/ The theme song is an arrangement of the oldest song in the world, based on music notations discoverd in Syria.
This is what Malek writes about it:
Ugarit, Syria is the birthplace of alphabet and music notation. Excavations of the ancient Phoenician city, Ugarit, in what is now modern Ras Shamra north of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast of Syria, uncovered cuneiform tablets that date back to approximately 3400 BC. This is the oldest music notation in the world! The interpretation of the music notation of Ugarit is a challenge and several "reconstructions" have been published.