“U.S. Wary of Warming Syrian-Turkish Ties,” by Deborah Amos on NPR

U.S. Wary of Warming Syrian-Turkish Ties
by Deborah Amos on NPR
All Things Considered, January 10, 2008

Listen Now [4 min 34 sec]

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (front right) and his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul (front left) walk during a welcoming ceremony at the Cankaya Palace in Ankara, Turkey, in October 2007. AFP/Getty Images

One place President George Bush is not visiting on his tour of the Middle East is Syria. Relations are icy, with Washington and Damascus at odds over Lebanon, the Arab-Israel conflict, the Iraq war and Iran.

But Syria is rapidly improving ties with a key U.S. ally in the region, Turkey. And that is a development that could have substantial repercussions, particularly for Washington.

Syrians Have Much to Gain

Syria's ambassador in Washington, Imad Moustapha, characterizes his country's ties with Turkey as a "honeymoon" and the "best possible relations between any two neighborly countries in the world."

Such enthusiasm over ties with Turkey is a worry for the United States, says Omer Taspinar, a Turkish analyst at the U.S. War College.

"I think the Syrians have a lot to gain. That's why it is in their interests to send a signal they are not isolated and they have Turkey on their side.

"Syria is perceived as the underdog against the U.S. So, the more the U.S. says, 'Don't talk to Syria,' I think, the more it will become attractive for Turkish public opinion," Taspinar says.

And that may be why Syrian President Bashar al-Assad got such a warm welcome on a recent trip to Turkey. With his attractive young wife, Assad toured the capital with Turkey's president and prime minister. The TV cameras were there as they opened a new Turkish shopping center. The coverage of smiling presidents and their wives surprised even Syrians, says George Sageur, a Syrian-American businessman.

The response to the president and his wife — as the face of Syria — has been tremendous in Turkey, he says. They were "received very, very well indeed."

Iraq War Marked Change in Syrian-Turkish Relations

It's a marked improvement from tensions a decade ago. The two countries seemed on the verge of war after Turkey accused Syria of harboring a Kurdish rebel leader.

But that was all before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Now, Turkey and Syria have shared concerns. Both have sizeable Kurdish populations. Both worry about the nationalist goals of the Kurds in neighboring Iraq. And both are wary of U.S. plans in the region, says Taspinar.

"The real impetus for these visits is the Kurdish question — let's not miss the real picture here. I think Turks are very much disillusioned with this whole Iraq episode."

Syria has benefited from that disillusionment.

Alliance with Turkey Serves as Balance to Iran

Because of expanded trade relations, Turkish language classes in Damascus are now popular for Syrian Arabic speakers. Syria's deputy prime minister was in Turkey last week to sign an agreement for a joint natural gas pipeline.

"The relationship with Turkey has an economic aspect, but it is also very important for domestic legitimacy," says Josh Landis, an American academic who writes an influential blog on Syria.

Landis says the new partnership with Turkey has helped Syria's president blunt a domestic problem: Many of Syria's majority Sunni Muslims do not like Assad's close relations with Shiite Iran.

"Syria is very unhappy in this Shiite alliance because 80 percent, 75 percent of the country is Sunni. It's caused a lot of angst among your average businessmen in Syria," Landis says.

Turkey is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country. And on the political front, Turkey's moderate politics could offer an alternative to Iran, says Ibrahim Hamidi, a Syrian journalist and analyst.

"If we really want to support moderate policies in the region, if we really want to isolate Iran, we have to work to give a bigger role to Turkey in the region," says Hamidi.

Turkey Steps Up Role in Middle East

And this is exactly what Turkey's new government wants, says Henri Barkey, a professor of international relations at Lehigh University. He says Turkey's leaders intend to become players in Middle East politics. The opening to Syria is a major move to do just that.

"It is quite smart on their part … to say, 'Look we have good relations with everybody, everybody can come and talk to us, we will listen to anybody, we will help anybody,' so this is the way the Turks are pushing themselves up in the region," Barkey says.

It is a new role for Turkey, a welcome lifeline for Damascus, and a problem for the United States: Turkey, a key U.S. ally, is reaching out to Syria — which President Bush has called a dangerous regime.

Related NPR Stories

Comments (100)

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51. t_desco said:

Quite a busy news day…

Syria Rebuilds on Site Destroyed by Israeli Bombs

The image released Friday came from a private company, DigitalGlobe, in Longmont, Colo. It shows a tall, square building under construction that appears to closely resemble the original structure, with the exception that the roof is vaulted instead of flat. The photo was taken from space on Wednesday.

Given the international uproar that unfolded after the bombing, “we can assume it’s not a reactor,” said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a private group in Washington that has analyzed the Syrian site. …
New York Times

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January 12th, 2008, 1:00 pm


52. Akbar Palace said:

AIG said:

Yes, I absolutely support one man one vote in Syria and Lebanon even if it means the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and Hizballah in Lebanon.

I agree.

However, the elections and votes that got Hamas and Abbas in power do not at all mean there is democracy within the Palestinian Authority. Near as I can tell, there is no date set where the Palestinians can either re-elect or change these leaders and their government. Unless someone tells me differently, these leaders and policial parties were voted in FOR LIFE, not for any finite TERM.

I say, listen to the Arab street and give them what they want: freedom, an end to corruption, a viable economy, opportunity, elections, and war with Israel.

Nasrallah has an idea:

Nasrallah spoke at a rally honoring the Muslin New Year, which was held at the Sayyed Al-Shuhada mosque in Beirut: “The Zionists will take their pick out of the ’67 territories, Jerusalem and the settlement, and will give the Palestinians whatever crumbs they’ll have left over.

“The only way to deal with the Israeli plan for our region in through resistance… As I have promised you before – we are going from victory to victory, and it shall be ours by blood and will.”

Gee, so what was the problem before 1967?

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January 12th, 2008, 1:34 pm


53. MNA said:

Dear Josh,

“Syria is very unhappy in this Shiite alliance because 80 percent, 75 percent of the country is Sunni. It’s caused a lot of angst among your average businessmen in Syria,” Landis says.

I disagree 100% with this statement. First of all, the majority of the 70-80% sunni of Syria is not all businessmen. Second, If anything, majority of syrians are still very suspecious of Turky, they have not forgotten that Turky still occupies part of Syria, still a Nato member, still a strategic ally of both Israel and USA. Finally, when it comes to the Arab Israeli conflict, syrians do not think in terms of Sunni and Shiia, remember, Hasan Nasrallah, a shiia, is most popular in Syria than any where else.

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January 12th, 2008, 4:21 pm


54. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

I am glad to see that some Syrians are not fooled by Asad. I believe you represent most of the Syrians as people all over the world want the same things: freedom and economic opportunity. This forum though is dominated by Syriands who are willing to give Bashar a free pass for reasons that they are not willing to be honest about.

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January 12th, 2008, 5:19 pm


55. Qifa Nabki said:

Syria Attends Mideast Peace Talks For Free Continental Breakfast

The Onion
January 10, 2008 | Issue 44•02

ANNAPOLIS, MD—Despite years of diplomatic stalemate in the Mideast crisis, Syrian officials appeared eager to mend troubled Arab-Israeli relations this week by participating in a second round of U.S.-led peace talks, which feature representatives from every country in the region, as well as a complimentary continental breakfast in the hotel lobby.

“We are attending this conference in the interest of peace, and intend to take full advantage of the opportunities afforded by this historic summit,” Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad said Tuesday. “I understand that a total of five different beverage options, including milk, tea, and assorted juices, will be available free of charge.”

Syrian delegates maintained their position on the so-called “Danish situation.”
Now in its second day, the summit has reportedly been a success for the Syrians, who described themselves as “optimistic” and “full” and are already pointing to a number of positive developments, including fresh pastries and a new policy of unlimited coffee refills.

A number of observers applauded Syria’s apparent commitment to peace after Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who selected a raspberry Danish and small cup of vanilla yogurt sprinkled with granola from the ice-filled bin in the hotel reception area, laid out his country’s goals for the five-day summit.

“This is a chance for us to get something truly worthwhile out of the arduous peace process,” al-Assad said. “Now is the time to put aside petty concerns and take advantage of this incredible generosity. The continental breakfast is only available for a limited time each morning, so we must be focused and diligent about getting down to the lobby before hotel staff remove all the doughnuts at 10:30.”

According to the State Department, the first day’s discussions—centered around Palestinian statehood and security along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip—went relatively smoothly, though the Syrian delegation did not appear until 90 minutes after the scheduled 9 a.m. start. Upon their arrival, however, the Syrians introduced themselves to their international counterparts and, as a measure of goodwill, offered them croissants, small wedges of grapefruit, and toast with jelly packets.

“We are encouraged by the Syrians’ willingness to help promote freedom in the region,” U.S. spokesman Sean McCormack said. “We just hope they will be ready to start talks before 10:31 tomorrow morning.”

The meetings were not without setbacks. Small arguments broke out sporadically throughout the day over the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, and the Kuwaiti ambassador taking the last three cream cheese packets.

“We deserve unfettered access to the cream cheese,” said the head of the Syrian parliament’s foreign relations committee, Suleiman Haddad, addressing a group of delegates assembled near the milk and cream table. “This must not be taken away from us. It is unacceptable. What will we put on this bagel?”

Tensions were relieved by some Syrian representatives who took a more conciliatory tone, pointing out that it’s nearly impossible to find good bagels in their native country at all, while expressing hope that a more equitable cream cheese–sharing arrangement could be arrived at the following morning.

Syria’s president and prime minister hold an emergency meeting near the coffee.
In Tehran, meanwhile, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was not invited to the talks, was highly critical of the summit, claiming that the European-style breakfast was indicative of a pro-Israel bias.

“It is quite obvious that the Annapolis summit will offer little real substance to those in attendance,” Ahmadinejad said. “The little single-serving boxes of cereal are not even sizable enough to constitute a real meal.”

Nevertheless, many within the State Department said they were encouraged to witness a number of delegates working together to clean up a cup of spilled coffee. At one point, the Israeli prime minister even offered to give up extra napkins to Syria’s president in order to stop the liquid from flowing over the side of the counter.

In comments made to the Syrian state newspaper, Syrian prime minister Muhammad Naji al-Otari said he was confident there was even more to achieve during the conference.

“I am pleased to report that there will be a variety of instant oatmeal flavors being offered in the near future,” al-Otari said. “I am certainly looking forward to learning more about the apples and cinnamon, maple and brown sugar, and the plain oatmeal flavors.”

While the United States organized an opening-night gala to welcome the participating ambassadors, the Syrians did not attend the event, claiming they had to go to bed early in order to get plenty of sleep for some “very important business” they had to attend to at 7 a.m. the following day.

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January 12th, 2008, 5:48 pm


56. Qifa Nabki said:

Deaths in Iraq: the numbers game

A third assessment of post-invasion violent deaths in Iraq was published on 9 January 2008 by the New England Journal of Medicine, a prestigious platform for medical research and scientific debates edited in Boston, Massachusetts. The lead article in the journal – “Violence-Related Mortality in Iraq from 2003 to 2006” – reports the results of an inquiry by the Iraq Family Health Survey Study Group (IFHS), involving collaboration between national and regional ministers in Iraq and the World Health Organisation (WHO). It finds that 151,000 (between 104,000 and 220,000) people died from violence in Iraq between March 2003 and June 2006. When such a politically sensitive figure is published, it is critical to turn statistics into words and explain what the new evidence tells, what it does not, and how far it confirms or invalidates the previous ones. ((read on)

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January 12th, 2008, 6:31 pm


57. ausamaa said:


I have to say, NMA comment is a very valid and correct one.

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January 12th, 2008, 7:15 pm


58. ausamaa said:

Another Israeli Guy who is reeeeeeeeeeeealy worried about the well-being of Syria and Syrians says:

“I believe you represent most of the Syrians as people all over the world want the same things: freedom and economic opportunity.”

Does this apply to the Palestinians in general and to the civillians in Gaza as well?

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January 12th, 2008, 7:20 pm


59. rawdawgbuffalo said:

….the new efforts and focus on surge and money will not work . sunni or latter

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January 12th, 2008, 7:55 pm


60. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Yes, and once they stop violence they would have a chance of obtaining freedom and economic growth. Wars and violence unfortunately lead to the other direction.

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January 12th, 2008, 8:49 pm


61. Joshua said:

Dear NMA and Ausamaa,

I knew my “taifi” comment would rub Syrians the wrong way. Let me explain what made me say it.

First, A year ago, the Syrian opposition kept on harping on about how Assad was supporting the Shiite Crescent and allowing Iran to spend money and build mosques in an effort to convert Syrians to Shiism. Some were claiming that as many as 500 Shiite mosques had popped up in Damascus alone.!

The effort to play on Syrian taifi sensibilities was obvious and it had some results. Sunnis have not been altogether comfortable with the terrible state of Syrian-Saudi relations, etc.

This was confirmed to me during the visit of the Syrian Ambassador to the University of Oklahoma. During a dinner attended by over 60 Oklahoma Syrians, of whom many were doctors and well to do professionals, Imad Mustapha answered questions wonderfully. There was a lively question and answer session after the dinner that went on for well over an hour.

The last question of the evening, and the question which caused the audience to fall silent and strain their ears in anticipation, was a question about Iran.

Someone asked, “Why has Syria turned toward Iran as its best friend? Traditionally Syria has had good relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt and its relations with these countries have formed the bed rock of Arab coordination? Is this good for Syria’s security and interests?”

The ambassador did not miss a beat. President Assad had just been to Ankara to meet Gul and Erdoghan. He said:

“Iran is not Syria’s best friend. Turkey is.” He elaborated. this answer took much of the tension out of the air. People seemed genuinely pleased with the answer, even if they were not sure it was absolutely true. (Turkey had just allowed Israeli planes overfly its territory after bombing Syria. Some Israelis wrote that Israel had informed Turkey before the raid.)

Some will say I am being too taifi in my understanding of this exchange and that the question is really about “radical” Iran as opposed to “moderate” Turkey. Perhaps they are right? I look forward to being corrected.

When it comes to Nasrallah and Hizbullah, I think you are right. There is genuine admiration for the man among all sectors of Syrian society.

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January 12th, 2008, 9:04 pm


62. MNA said:

Dear Josh,

“Some will say I am being too taifi in my understanding of this exchange and that the question is really about “radical” Iran as opposed to “moderate” Turkey. Perhaps they are right? I look forward to being corrected.”

It does feel that it is a taifi understanding of the exchange, and by the way it is not a question of “radical” Iran versus “moderate” Turkey because most syrians do not view Iran as a radical state nor do they view Turkey as a “moderate” state. Most syrians view and judge other and especially neighboring countries on their stance vis-a-vis the conflict with Israel. This is the reason why most syrians have admiration not only to Hassan Nasrallah, but also to Iran. Syrians might indeed be at unease regarding Syria’s alliance with Iran, but for different reasons. For most syrians, an alliance with Iran means isolation, more isolation, and more economic hardship. They also see Syria as the weakest link in this alliance and that should a confrontation erupt with the US, Syria will pay the heaviest price. On the other hand, Syrians have never been fond of Turkey for many reasons including, the question of askandaron, the Othman colonization for 400 years, alliance with the US and Israel, being a NATO member, and the manipulation of the Euphrat’s water sources.

As for relations with Saudi Arabia, I think most Syrians are furious with their government for being too polite with Saudi Arabia since the assassination of Harriri. Syrians are fully aware of the Saudi role during the summer war of 2006 as well as the effort to isolate and destabilize their country.

I too have heard that Iran was infusing money into Syria in an effort to spread shiiasim, but no one could find any substance to this. As for the 500 shiia mosques, only two are confirmed, the Raqiyah one in old Damascus and which was a rehabilitation and not a new structure, and the one in Sit Zaynab. However, many sunni syrians have told me that they were thinking about converting to shiiasim, but not because of any financial compensation, but in spite of Saudi Arabia and the other so called “moderate” Arab states and their allies in Lebanon.

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January 12th, 2008, 11:02 pm


63. t_desco said:

Some comments on the significance of recent arrests

I am pretty confident now that Fatah al-Islam is directly linked to al-Qa’ida. The confessions (probably made under torture) quoted by Siniora linking the group to Syrian intelligence are probably false (cf. Brammertz VII, §63,64).

The links to the failed German train bombings are significant because the brother of Youssef Mohammed el-Hajdib was a senior commander in Fatah al-Islam. He was also suspected of having played some role in the planning process of the attack.

Possible links to the Hariri assassination are intriguing, but remain unclear. Perhaps there is now a chance to get those questions about Nabil Rahim answered. The Australian element is also very interesting (but it could be just a coincidence in the Hariri case).

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January 12th, 2008, 11:15 pm


64. Qifa Nabki said:


How would you characterize the total sum of evidence that you’ve surveyed thus far (not just pertaining to the recent arrests)?

I have trouble keeping all the names straight, but then I haven’t been paying close enough attention, as you have.

The name “al-Qa’ida” has been floating around a lot lately, as have impressionistic speculations about KSA’s connection to Fatah al-Islam, etc. How do you interpret all of this?

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January 12th, 2008, 11:45 pm


65. Alex said:


When YOU say “I am pretty confident now”, then most of us are also pretty confident.

But we are lazy too .. as QN explained … by now we are lost with all the generic sounding names of those individuals.

Can you help us with a one or two page summary?

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January 13th, 2008, 12:32 am


66. norman said:

Arab League Mediation in Lebanon Fails

The Associated Press

BEIRUT, Lebanon – The head of the Arab League said Saturday that he was leaving Lebanon after failing to get the country’s feuding politicians to agree on a plan to elect a new president and end the deepening political crisis.

After four days of talks, Amr Moussa said the situation in Lebanon was still “serious” and promised to return to Beirut in the next few days to continue his discussions with members of the Western-backed government and pro-Syrian opposition.

“I don’t want to give a dose of optimism, nor to describe the situation as pessimistic,” said Moussa. “There is still hope as long as we are working.”

The Arab League secretary general arrived in Beirut on Wednesday to discuss ways of implementing a plan unanimously endorsed by Arab foreign ministers last week calling for the election of army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman as president, the formation of a national unity government and the adoption of a new election law.

Many hoped Syria’s willingness to back the statement would soften demands by the opposition , led by the Syrian-backed militant group Hezbollah , that it receive Cabinet veto power before allowing Suleiman to be elected.

However, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is aligned with the opposition, postponed the presidential vote for a 12th time on Friday as the election deadlock entered its second month.

Saad Hariri, the leader of the parliamentary majority, said Saturday that Lebanon was going through “a very difficult and dangerous stage” and urged the opposition to help facilitate the presidential vote.

“The Arab initiative is very clear. What is important is to begin implementing it by electing a president because this election is the basis of the entire initiative,” legislator Saad Hariri said in an interview with Kuwait Television.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned Saturday that Arab countries would not be able to help Lebanon unless the country’s feuding factions reached a compromise to end the current crisis.

“What is left now is the Arab initiative, and if the (Lebanese) do not make it succeed, then I predict a dangerous situation for Lebanon, for (countries) surrounding Lebanon and for the region at large,” said Mubarak.

Lebanon has been without a president since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s term ended Nov. 23, plunging the country into the worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.

The government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has been locked for more than a year in a fierce power struggle with the opposition led by the militant Hezbollah group.

Though both sides have backed Suleiman, they remain deadlocked over an amendment to Lebanon’s constitution that would allow the head of the military to become president. They also have not been able to agree an opposition demand that it receive veto power in the government over major issues.

Many of Lebanon’s feuding politicians, including Saniora and Berri, have welcomed the Arab plan, expressing hope that it would help end the crisis. Hezbollah has reacted more cautiously, saying it was willing to fully discuss the plan’s details.

In their statement last week, the Arab foreign ministers called on Lebanon to elect Suleiman by Jan. 27, then resolve the issues surrounding a national unity government. The ministers also said the new president should have the power to cast his vote to break ties in the Cabinet.

Find this article at:


Check the box to include the list of links referenced in the article.

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January 13th, 2008, 1:05 am


67. SHAMI said:

MNA:Othman colonization for 400 years
I dont think that your are syrian or maybe you belong to the minorities who had some problems with turkish nationalists in the late ottoman period but for most of syrians it was not a colonization but a kalifat ,the propaganda of diabolization of the Ottomans has failed in Syria and everywhere in the arab world.As for ruqayya shrine,it’s not true what MNA said the mosque is new and had been built under hafez asad ,after they have demolished one of the richest quarter of old damascus.(and lately an another one in Dummar )the excuse is that’s a tourism project for shia piligrms.
as for the iranian policy in syria ,what the opposition said even if exagerated is true , their target are the poor shawaya of the badia between ayn arab ,raqqa(they have built in a record time in 2004 a big iranian style mausoleum and hawza,there is no shia in the city ),the badia of deir ezor and in horan.

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January 13th, 2008, 1:07 am


68. Alex said:


“exaggeration” is not the right word … building “in a record time in 2004 a big iranian style mausoleum” in Raqqa compared to opposition claims that 500 mosques were built in Damascus alone is … a lie … like their endless lies the past two years.

Remember also their claims that the Iranian ambassador is the true ruler in Damascus?

Let us name things as they are: The whole thing was another stupid tactic designed by the stupid group of Washington backed “Syrian opposition”… they thought they can fool and scare the Syrian people through these lies.

But I agree with you to some extent that many Syrians by now accept and understand the Ottoman rule. Moreover, most are happy to see Bashar balancing his close relation to Iran with even closer relations to Turkey.

I am one of them.

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January 13th, 2008, 1:21 am


69. Alex said:

A good one from Syria’s mufti : )

وعبر عن أسفه لقرار الرئيس الفرنسي ” نيكولا ساركوزي ” بوقف الاتصالات مع سورية ،وقال ” أدعو الرئيس ساركوزي، وصديقته لزيارة سورية لكي نعقد عليهما هنا في سورية ” الأمر الذي أثار ابتسامات الوفد الفرنسي والحضور .

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January 13th, 2008, 1:22 am


70. Qifa Nabki said:

Shiaification (or Sunnification) is not so straightforward, anywhere.

Sayyid Hassan explains why, in his typically inimitable style.

[click here]

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January 13th, 2008, 1:42 am


71. Sami D said:

AIG wrote,

.. once they [the Palestinians] stop violence they would have a chance of obtaining freedom and economic growth. Wars and violence unfortunately lead to the other direction.

Translation: Once the victims stop resisting the oppressor, the latter might be generous enough to drop them few crumbs in their cage. And we’ll call these crumbs “freedom and economics growth”, or “fried chicken” as Netanyahu referred to what the Palestinians can call their “state” to be built on the remaining bantustan Israel will give them. On your second point wars and violence actually do lead to economic growth sometimes (for the conquerer): Check out the US and Israel, where the military is a fundamental component of their economies.

It is the apologists for the Syrian regime that live in free countries. These guys are the epitome of hypocrisy and cynicism.

Does the word hypocrisy include Zionists who claim they care about Arabs having democracy & freedom, while they support their “democratic” state as it presses its boot on the neck of an entire Arab population? Sorry, but no Israeli, except those who truly cares about/fights for Palestinian rights, really has any credibility telling any of Israel’s neighbors s/he cares about them.

Yes, I absolutely support one man one vote in Syria and Lebanon even if it means the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and Hizballah in Lebanon. [“Akbar Palace” concurs]

Sure, if Israel and the US can’t get a puppet, why not settle for the second best: have a radical Islamist leadership. That will help push those countries backward, and prevent them from secularizing or developing much. The British, along with the puppet monarchy, actively created the Muslim brotherhoods precisely because that would block the democratic and secular Wafd. Belligerent Israeli and US policy in the region has left Syria with few possible alternatives: Current dictatorship, Muslim brotherhood, or a US-Israeli puppet/dictatorship. I prefer none, but alas, these are the currently allowed options. So it is not necessarily hypocrisy on the part of some Syrians that makes them settle for the first option.

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January 13th, 2008, 2:08 am


72. majedkhaldoun said:

The arab league effort appears to fail,so far no progress, I still think general M. Aoun is the best for the job, and should improve his relations with S. Hariri.

Some are changing their religion to Shiite,but they do not understand the true meaning of this, God said in Quran,in the last verse,in souret Al Esraa, He has no Wali, Shiite say Ali is wali allah, this is clear violation of Quraan, also in souret Zummar God said those “who will consider a person as wali,Inna allah la yahdi man howa Kazeb Kaffar”

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January 13th, 2008, 2:37 am


73. Qifa Nabki said:


The tafsir tradition is largely in agreement that “lam yakun lahu waliyyun min al-dhulli” in Quran 17:111 is to be straightforwardly interpreted as God not needing to ally Himself with a protecting friend because of His own weakness.

Even the Shi`a tafsirs say the same thing about this verse.

The term ‘wali’ is very capacious, so your argument is not so satisfactory.

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January 13th, 2008, 2:57 am


74. T said:

There has been much talk of the Saudi support for Hariri, Jr. against Syria in Lebanon. But what about the Saudi support for Lahoud and Syria in Lebanon, by the Al Waleed faction. Does anyone know how far this support went or what it entailed?
Also- has there been any more on the Akkas oil field estimates- does it extend into Syria?

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January 13th, 2008, 3:08 am


75. majedkhaldoun said:

the interpretation do not reflect the obvious word, God words are clear, he has no wali, how do you interpret this as he has no need to ally himself with protecting person?, if this is some people interpretation, it is clearly wrong, by the way those who interpret Quran they are wrong in many places, Quran is very clear, and consistant, and wrong interpretations has caused us many problems.

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January 13th, 2008, 3:21 am


76. Qifa Nabki said:

The Qur’an is not always clear (which is acknowledged by the muhkam and mutashabih verses). And you are right that there are plenty of inaccurate interpretations.

However, in this case, I would argue that the Qur’an is very clear. It says clearly: “lam yakun lahu waliyyun min al-dhulli” (“He has no protector from humiliation [or disgrace, weakness, whatever you want to say”).

So this is the ‘clear’, ‘obvious’ interpretation of the verse. It is not saying that God has no wali at all.

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January 13th, 2008, 3:33 am


77. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Sami D,
First of all, thank you for at least an attempt at an argument as to why you so support dictatorship. It is the argument I call “the best of the worst”.

What you have not argued convincingly for is that the three options you wrote are the only ones. In fact you just claim they are but do not support your assertion with any argumentation. Would you care to elaborate why Asad cannot be removed and replaced by a democratic government?

In addtition, you fall also into the regular trap of blaming all the ills of the Arab world on others instead of taking responsibility for your own actions.

In the end, your argument is no different than the condescending “Arabs are not ready for democracy”. You enjoy living in a democratic and free country yet you find excuses not to work for freedom and democracy in Syria and condemn your fellow Syrians to more lost decades.

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January 13th, 2008, 4:27 am


78. majedkhaldoun said:

I do not like argument and this is the last response to QN, aldhull is description to the people who are slaves to God, God needs no protector,he is allaho Akbar.
mutashabihat are words like A.L.M,or K.H Y 3 Sad, even that God explained them in Zukhrof Sourah,but it could take different meenings.

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January 13th, 2008, 4:54 am


79. Alex said:


You are close, but you need to fine tune your opinions a bit

repeat after AIG please

1) Israel is a Democracy
2) Israel is good
3) None of the problems in the Middle East are the fault of Israel… can’t be, Israel is a democracy.
4) Even if for some crazy reason Israel made a mistake, no problem … because they have free speech they will discuss it and correct it. Just like they corrected all the mistakes where they failed to implement any of the 5,000,000 UN resolutions against them.
4) We CAN have democracy tomorrow in Syria.
5) Bloodshed is necessary to achieve our dreams of democracy.
6) If Syria breaks down into 5 smaller emirates then this is just fine … the fact it happened after giving people the chance to express their real opinions, means it is all for the better.
7) Assad is a despicable murderous dictator. We need a peaceful Netanyahu-like leader for Syria.

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January 13th, 2008, 5:46 am


80. T said:


Do you or Joshua or T Desco know anything more about where Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia stands regarding Lebanon now? (I know he kept investing in Syria even while another branch shunned Syria.)

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January 13th, 2008, 6:53 am


81. why-discuss said:

“I too have heard that Iran was infusing money into Syria in an effort to spread shiiasim, but no one could find any substance to this”

Iran is not opening hundred of medresseh that, we all know, have spread terrorism as the Saudis did in Pakistan and other sunni countries for years to attract the sunnis to whahabbism, an extreme form of Islam, banning churches and declaring the christians and other religions as mecreants…
If Shiism is attracting more people, what is wrong? If they convert, many of them for the simple reasons that they only have daughters and that the Shia law is less injust against women that the sunni’s, why would anyone blame them? If they prefer a leader like Nasrallah and a sect more open than sunnism to other religions, what’s wrong? They are still moslems, no?
So many christians convert from one sect to another and this presents no threat to the christian community.
I think a big campaign initiated by the US and their murderous war in Iraq has attempted to put Sunnis and Shias ( associated with Iran) in competition for the arab world, thus creating even more divisions. The US is now paying the price with more US dead and the increase of sunni alqaeda terrorism in the arab world.

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January 13th, 2008, 8:38 am


82. offended said:

LOL Alex, you’ve somehow managed to psycho-analyze AIG telepathically…

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January 13th, 2008, 8:57 am


83. MNA said:

SHAMI: “I dont think that your are syrian or maybe you belong to the minorities who had some problems with turkish nationalists in the late ottoman period but for most of syrians it was not a colonization but a kalifat”

Just because someone disagree with how you interpret history does not mean that they are either not syrian or belong to the minorities who had problems with turkish nationalists. I would like to tell you that you are wrong on both counts!!

You might be right on the Raqiyah mosque in old Damascus, however, I think that It is far fedged from the 500, 400, 300, 200, 100, 50, 40, 30 or even 10 mosques that sprung up in Damascus along in the past three years. The diabolization of the othman rule is not the propoganda here, because it is a fact; a colonization at its worst that set the entire region back for hundreds of years. The real propaganda here is the diabolization of Iran’s interest in Syria and its efforts in spreading shiiasm.

My main disagreement here that syrians look at their country’s alliances or relations from a sectarian angle. This is not the case.

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January 13th, 2008, 8:58 am


84. t_desco said:

Qifa Nabki, Alex,

unfortunately I have to rely on newspaper articles and I wouldn’t characterize them as “evidence”. They are often unreliable, contain contradictions, errors and inaccuracies and are based on our beloved “anonymous sources”.

Let’s take the example of Mohammed Ndoub. We have one (exactly one) German journalist at the moment who has reported that Ndoub had previously been arrested “after the Hariri assassination”. A greater number of reports (none of them in English, I believe) say the same about Nabil Rahim. Perhaps the journalist or his sources simply confused reports about the two? It is possible.

Regarding “al-Qa’ida”: I think it is important not to imagine it as a “Leninist” organization with cadres waiting for orders from somebody sitting in a cave in Waziristan. Some have gone to the other extreme, claiming that “al-Qa’ida does not exist”. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I like the idea that there are several “branches”, the Saudi branch, the Iraqi branch, the Algerian/Maghrebi branch, the Southeast Asian branch, the “HQ” in Pakistan/Afghanistan. The situation in “al-Sham” seems a little bit more unclear.

I don’t think that the organization has “state sponsors”, but there are probably some wealthy individuals in, say, KSA who support it.

Regarding the funding of Fatah al-Islam (as reported by Seymour Hersh), I believe that it is possible that some prominent Saudis (not necessarily Hariri) gave money for the creation of militias in Lebanon and that some of that money (or some of the weapons) ended up in the hands of Fatah al-Islam because these groups had friendly ties with each other. That is the version proposed by General Clark (as I understood it). Something similar seems to have happened in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Alex, I agree, a summary would be nice, naming names but at the same time making absolutely clear just how UNRELIABLE all this information is… 😉

And it would be really helpful to get some of the questions about Nabil Rahim and his alleged connection to the Hariri investigation answered.

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January 13th, 2008, 12:15 pm


85. Qifa Nabki said:

Thanks T_DESCO, most helpful. And a summary would be great.

What are the likely repercussions of the outcome of the Tribunal, anyway? Have any analysts speculated about this? If “high-level Syrian officials” are implicated (I’m just hypothesizing here), of course this would be “very bad” for Syria, but what would it mean in real terms beyond condemnation by the international community, which has more or less already happened?

Full-scale isolation (along the lines of Libya and Iran)? That seems somewhat overblown. What then?

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January 13th, 2008, 2:18 pm


86. SHAMI said:

It’s more likely that they have said 50 for all Syria and of course not 500 .The question is why are they building husayniyat in the poor regions with no shias inside of it and it’s even not normal for a city like damascus to have an iranian mosque in its center,their effort are real and important but that doesnt mean that the people will convert,that’s why they have chosen shawaya people,in the same time the sunnis who are an important minority in Iran are not allowed to build mosques inside of Tehran.60% of the iranian people are poor and the regime is rich and corrupt ,so it’s more islamic for the iranian regime to spend this money in Iran.

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January 13th, 2008, 2:48 pm


87. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:


How usual and how so like Asad: There is no democracy in Syria because of Israel. It is absolutely not the fault of Asad that Syrians have no rights. It is the fault of Israel.

You are living in deep denial or you are just a regime apologists.

And, again you have shown that you have a problem quoting people correctly. I never said Israel was perfect, I always say that Israel is a democracy muddling along in a difficult environment. Freedom of speech and a true discussion of issues do help improve. It is a fact that the average Israeli is much more well off than the average Syrian.

And I never said that bloodshed is necessarry to achieve Syrian democracy. It is you who seem to think that what is necessarry is childish adoration of Asad. There is a huge difference between advocating violence in Syria and accepting Asad for the next 20 years. There are many things that can be done that are not violent.

For example, you could support expatriates not sending money to Syria. Or sit ins in front of Syrian embassies. There are many other options. But of course you choose the way of adoring Asad and supporting his oppressive regime while you live free in a democracy. How cynical and hypocritical is that?

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January 13th, 2008, 4:35 pm


88. ugarit said:


Don’t worry about the “wrong” interpretations of the Quran. God is all powerful and all knowing and “he” will one day make everything obvious. Remember when God eliminated his own creation of al-shaytan wa-iblis and when he eliminated poverty, war etc. Let’s not worry about what “God” meant because humanity has more important things to deal with. We’re in the 21st century for goodness sake.

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January 13th, 2008, 6:33 pm


89. T said:

You ignored all the evidence in my post regarding Israel’s censorship tactics in the USA. Very typical. If you cant justify that behavior, ignore that it happens? And yes you are right- Israel has much more free speech than the USA… thanks to pro-Israeli censorship in USA. I have said this very clearly and have given Israel credit for being ahaead of America in the free press/speech area.
But I have not seen Alex or anyone at this blog bow in adoration to Assad or describe him as democratically elected. Only refusals to submit to the US-Israel agenda which targets Syria to further the PNAC plan.
Now, about the “hypocrisy” regarding that said US-Israeli democracy agenda in the region…

Bush says US, allies must confront Iran AP Jan 12, 2008:

…..Bush spoke at the Emirates Palace, at an opulent, gold-trimmed hotel where a suite goes for $2,450 a night. Built at a cost of $3 billion, the hotel is a kilometer long from end to end and has a 1.3 kilometer white sand beach — every grain of it imported from Algeria, according to Steven Pike, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy here.

Half the audience was dressed in western attire and the other half in Arabic clothes — white robes and headdresses for men and black abayas, many with jeweled edges, for women.

In renewing his “Freedom Agenda” — Bush’s grand ambition to seed democracy around the globe — the president declared: “We know from experience that democracy is the only system of government that yields lasting peace and stability.”

Yet he was speaking about democracy in a deeply undemocratic country, the Emirates, where an elite of royal rulers makes virtually all the decisions. Large numbers of foreign resident workers have few legal or human rights, including no right to citizenship and no right to protest working conditions.

Some human rights groups have accused the Emirates of tolerating virtual indentured servitude, where workers from poor countries like Sri Lanka are forced to work to pay off debts to employers, and have their passports seized so they can’t leave. (end of snip)
In Syria women have a choice to wear hijab or not, Christians can attend church (and proselytize- which is illegal in Israel), there are discos, bars etc

Your passion for democracy is selective because it is merely a PR gimmick to force Syria’s conformance w/ the PNAC agenda. When the ‘moderate’ Arabs in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan suffer the concern for democracy that is aimed at Syria– give us a call.

In the meantime- if anyone has feedback about the pro-Syria Alwaleed camp, please inform.

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January 13th, 2008, 6:50 pm


90. Alex said:

AIG said:

“There are many things that can be done that are not violent.

For example, you could support expatriates not sending money to Syria. Or sit ins in front of Syrian embassies.”

The problem is that your brain is trained to ignore any piece of information that is not to your liking.

This is the third time that I noticed so far where you mentioned the same thing and people here replied to you to explain that they don’t send money to the regime, they send it to their old parents, or young sisters living in Syria… so your tactic would punish the father and mother, not Bashar Assad.

As for sitting in front of embassies … well, you know people can do that in Ottawa or Rome, but they don’t, or they rarely did in the past. Why? .. some intend to go back to Syria and do not want to get on the regime’s nerves by doing those things, but the majority do not see a need to leave their work or school to demonstrate in front of an embassy … as I try to explain to you, most Syrians are not delighted with the regime’s policies, but they are not furious either… if they were you would have seen those embassy sit-ins you want to see.

You can not force them to do so … if you read the Washington supported “opposition” sites the past two years you would have noticed that they were always calling for actions and events similar to the ones you are calling for, but those events are cancelled usually becasue there is not enough interest.

As I always tell you … the Syrian people will be angry when THEY naturally reach that stage .. you can try as much as you want, but you can’t force them to be angry.

So … can you answer Ehsani’s question? … how will you achieve democracy in Syria peacefully?

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January 13th, 2008, 7:56 pm


91. ugarit said:

Syria Attends Mideast Peace Talks For Free Continental Breakfast

“ANNAPOLIS, MD—Despite years of diplomatic stalemate in the Mideast crisis, Syrian officials appeared eager to mend troubled Arab-Israeli relations this week by participating in a second round of U.S.-led peace talks, which feature representatives from every country in the region, as well as a complimentary continental breakfast in the hotel lobby.” — http://www.theonion.com/content/news/syria_attends_mideast_peace_talks


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January 13th, 2008, 7:58 pm


92. Alex said:


Prince Waleed’s relations with Syria are always good.

But he is busy lately with some serious investments elsewhere. Did you see his latest? … the 15 billion dollar mile-high building.

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January 13th, 2008, 8:07 pm


93. Qifa Nabki said:


You’re not reading closely enough. 😉

(That article was posted earlier)

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January 13th, 2008, 8:27 pm


94. Qifa Nabki said:

I’m sorry if I offend any Saudis (or other Gulfis) on this blog, but these expensive development projects are simply ludicrous to my mind.

Not only are they exorbitant to build in the first place; they will be massively expensive to maintain in the future. How does it make any sense for desert kingdoms to be building huge glass skyscrapers? Are they short on land? Do they really need to go up? Can you imagine the annual air conditioning costs for such monstrosities, not to mention the environmental impact?

For every $20 million Al-Waleed spends on education, he has to dump a much vaster sum into a silly little vanity project like the “Mile Tower”.

To my mind, the only investment from oil revenues that has a real chance to make a difference in the Middle East is, amazingly, a Saudi one (KAUST).

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January 13th, 2008, 8:39 pm


95. T said:


Thank you for the excellent links. Do you have any projections/diagrams for the ‘flying palace’? I wondered how the Citibank situation was affecting him- tho as of today, he is willing to sink a few more billion into propping up US economy despite Citi subprime losses.

In US- Pres contender NYC Mayor Giuliani has been using his rude dismissal of Waleed’s donation after 911 as a selling point that he is tough on terror. Giuliani has focused on it several times in national debates.
Do you think Waleed’s fathers’ reform camp has any workable traction inside Saudi Arabia?

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January 13th, 2008, 8:48 pm


96. Alex said:


Giuliani will continue the same Macho Cowboy politics of the current administration if he is elected. Hopefully he won’t be elected no matter how many times he reminds voters of his refusal to take money from Prince Walid few years ago.

Qifa Nabki,

I gave up long time ago on complaining about too little charity and too much ego in Arabia.

But there are some exceptions like the 10 billion dollars to be spent on the Saudi university.

Also, In Abu Dhabi they are constructing a museum which will display works of art from the collection of the Louvre.. the part which is in storage. The Louvre will rent it to them.

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January 13th, 2008, 9:33 pm


97. T said:

This UAE deal also includes a sister-relationship with the Metropolitan Opera in NYC…. It would be great if these VIPS put up $$$ to fully restore Palmyra, Persepolis, Hatra and the Baghdad Museum instead. If Israel got on board the Saudi Peace deal from 2002, the entire ME region could be unstoppable in tourism terms.

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January 13th, 2008, 9:47 pm


98. Qifa Nabki said:

I agree with T — rebuilding and enhancing local institutions/attractions sounds like the better option. For one thing, many of the European and U.S. institutions that are forming partnerships in the various Gulf states are charging them an arm and a leg for their “brands”. The Gulfis don’t care because they are swimming in money, but it just seems a little too much like Las Vegas. The philosophy is: “we are a desert, geographically and culturally, so let’s buy it pre-packaged from the West rather than cultivating our own.”

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January 14th, 2008, 12:06 am


99. AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

No, I do not want to listen to American and Canadian “Syrians” who are living in freedom in the lap of luxury and supporting dictators. I want to hear the average Syrian speak freely and support Asad. Then I will believe your hallucinations.

No, I do not want to listen to Pan Arab leftist who are living in the US or Canada and that do not mind the sacrifices made by the average Syrian in support of their “fight” to give a black eye to the country theiy live and reside in. These people would rather see the US get a black eye and have another generation of Syrians lose hope than support democracy in Syria.

No, I do not want to listen to the second generation Syrians who are living freely in the US and Canada and are apathetic to the fate of their fellow countrymen who for all they care should live under a dictator.

I want to hear loud and clear what the average Syrian living in Syria really thinks, but that is exactly why there is no free press and no freedom of speech in Syria. Because this is exactly what Asad is afraid the world will hear. The average Syrian hates Israel, but he hates Asad even more.

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January 14th, 2008, 1:20 am


100. norman said:

America’s policy does not change by the change of the presidency it only changes when the Arabs stand as one and force their opinion and their interest on the US Government . I am not holding my breath.

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January 14th, 2008, 2:51 am


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