“Once-Socialist Damascus Displays New Wealth, Glitz,” by Deborah Amos

Once-Socialist Damascus Displays New Wealth, Glitz
by Deborah Amos  on NPR's "All things Considered"

[Warning: quotes from Landis, Hamidi, Dardari, Rime Allaf, and Salloum (owner of Z bar).]

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Damascus stores now carry Western brand-name goods, unimaginable just a few years ago. 

Nezar Hussein for NPR

Damascus stores now carry Western brand-name goods, unimaginable just a few years ago.

The rooftop Z Bar in Damascus is one watering hole catering to the nouveau riche.

Nezar Hussein for NPR

The city's young and wealthy no longer flock to Beirut for their nightlife: The rooftop Z Bar is one glitzy watering hole catering to the nouveau riche.

All Things Considered, February 5, 2008 · Syria's ancient capital, Damascus, is booming. Economic reforms, high oil prices, investments from the oil-rich Gulf and Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon have all contributed to the renaissance.

Syria was forced out of Lebanon three years ago, following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Lebanon's capital, Beirut, was once a shopping haven for Syrian consumers. Now, Syria's government is encouraging Syrians to shop and play at home.

'Beirutization' of Damascus

Almost every week, another brand-name coffee shop opens in Damascus. New hotels are going up. Syrians can now put their money in private banks, and Western goods flood into the capital. Once a strict socialist economy, Syria is changing fast.

"A few years ago, nobody would have imagined Syria to be like this," says journalist Ibrahim Hamidi.

After the withdrawal from Lebanon, the government accelerated economic reforms, Hamidi says. Everything Syrians used to go to Lebanon to buy is now available at home.

"If you walk out on the street now, you see very fancy cars, fancy restaurants, young nouveau riche wearing very fancy watches, wearing famous brands," Hamidi says.

Syria's first modern shopping mall opened last year. ATM machines are new in Syria, and the goods here — electronics, clothing, kitchen appliances — are mostly imported.

Analyst Reem Alaf says some Syrians call this the "Beirutization" of Damascus.

"Beirut was always the great shopping experience — the capitalist dream that [Syrians] didn't have.

"In addition … over half of the population is under the age of 20. It's a very different generation that is looking for new things that the old Syria was not giving them," she says.

'Change Is Irreversible'

Vice Prime Minister Abdullah Dardari, who is in charge of transforming the economy, says that Syria is breaking out of the old socialist model.

"This country has changed — and this change is irreversible. The wheel is already set in motion," Dardari says.

Record oil prices have helped. Investors from the Gulf states, including Iran, have poured money into the country. Despite U.S. sanctions, European trade has increased. Dardari acknowledges that the break with neighboring Lebanon played a role.

"Before the political problems in Beirut, there was a clear decision: We should no longer push the Syrian affluent society to go to Beirut. … If they want to consume these products, let them consume them here," he says.

One place affluent Syrians go to consume is Damascus' rooftop Z Bar.

Evelyn Saloom opened Z Bar last summer — with red velvet walls, crystal chandeliers, a creative bartender, plus a Facebook page that announces upcoming events.

Saloom modeled her bar on Beirut's most famous watering holes.

"I always thought, 'Why do young Syrians go and spend their money in Lebanon? Why [do they] have to cross borders in order to enjoy a drink, have fun and dance?'" she says.

Syria has gone a long way to prove it doesn't need Lebanon anymore, and this is also new, says Saloom.

"What happened in Lebanon made Syrians improve internally. We have banks, we have insurance companies, [the] English language is now a must," she says.

Not All Are Benefiting Equally

But journalist Hamidi argues that the new era has not reached Syrians stuck in the old economy — for example, those in low-paid government jobs.

"Syria … is changing dramatically, but not for all Syrians. The wealthiest are getting wealthier, [the] poor are getting poorer and the middle class is shrinking," Hamidi says.

That's the result of a country rapidly transforming a 40-year history of economic control from the top. Josh Landis, an American academic who specializes in Syria, says China is Syria's model: Keep a tight lid on political opposition, open the economy and try to manage the growing income gap.

"The big question for the Syrian government is, can it keep a lid on it? Can they get the trickledown fast enough so that people don't give up hope, so the rising expectations don't explode in their hands?" Landis says.

Comments (29)

EHSANI2 said:

Dr. Landis,

I wonder what the late Hafez Assad would say if he woke up from his grave and saw a sign with a US$ 450 pair of shoes displayed in the window of his capital’s retail stores.

Not that I mind the new look of Damascus.

The Four Seasons hotel (superb Gym by the way) and the Z bar are indeed refreshing signs of change in this country. I would not go as far as claiming that Damascus is the new Beirut though. It is certainly heading in that (right) direction however.

As to the comparisons with China, trickle down economics works best as economic growth kicks into higher gear. China’s 8% growth rate for over a decade has allowed that trickle down process to work rather successfully. Syria is still stuck in that 4-5% growth phase where the trickle down does not reach far or deep enough into its society. Syria’s current growth rate is fine for the high and upper middle class. It is however insufficient for those at the low end of the income level.

It is only through privatization and the immediate development of a securities exchange that the country can attract further direct foreign investments. A virtuous circle of more investments and higher growth needs to be set in motion before the economy can shift to a higher platform. Policy makers need to accelerate their liberalization drive into higher gear first though.

February 6th, 2008, 7:16 pm


Observer said:

Change is here to stay and one of its forms is “Westoxication”
Here is an excerpt from Conflicts Forum on the one way discourse of Western modernity and the eternal inferiority complex building of this discourse

The person who understood this and wrote about this most clearly is Frantz Fanon who, writing in the 1960s when he wrote particularly from his own experience and identification from his time working in colonial Algeria, about the feelings of inadequacy and dependency experienced by the negro. Fanon describes in powerful terms the impact of language and power on a colonised people: “Every colonised people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural creativity ultimately finds itself face to face with the language of the civilising nation; that is with the culture of the mother country. The colonised is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country’s cultural standards. He becomes whiter as he renounces his blackness, his jungle”.2

There is the link so as not to burden the site; I highly recommend it to those that continue to think that some are more civilized or better than others and how this form of thinking in our globalized and fragile world will drive humanity to extinction


February 6th, 2008, 9:04 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Who is Dr. Riad Awwad, and what’s with the dissertations?

February 7th, 2008, 12:14 am


Roland said:

I become infuriated when I find someone decry the role of religious parties in today’s Arab world.

Such people expose their profound ignorance of the historical development of two of the world’s most long-standing representative polities.

Religious fundamentalism played an indispensable role in the development of democracy both in England and in America.

The same sort of people who banned theatres and burned witches also extinguished the notion of the Divine Right of Kings.

Without the dedicated actions of religious zealots (including many who became radicalized during their participation in the Thirty Years’ War), England would have ended up with the kind of “rational” and “enlightened” despotism which plagued the European continent–and which led to still bloodier revolutions later on.

February 7th, 2008, 1:39 am


annie said:

Dr . Riad Awwad should publish his own blog instead of squatting this one and I am surprised the moderator did not filter him out. A comment should be just that, not a dissertation which has nothing to do with the topic.

February 7th, 2008, 6:52 am


Akbar Palace said:

Yes folks, Dr. Riad Awwad doesn’t fit the mold:

Anti-Israel to the core, excuse-making for the decline of Arab society and their lack of political power, and their disregard for supporting Islamic terror.

Par for the course.

I see dissertations every day here for those who love to cut & paste Ha’aretz articles critical of Israel, but when the shoe is on the other foot…it hurts!

February 7th, 2008, 11:44 am


Wassim said:

Ehsani2, do you honestly think that Damascus is heading in the right direction? That the monstrosity otherwise known as the Four Seasons hotel is a step forward? There is an Arabic saying:

يللي بتطلعو السمرة, بتحطو حمرة و بودرة

I think Beirut has been over romanticised and I notice nobody mentions that the opening of “private” banks and the immense investment in the country might be as a result of something more than just investment from oil rich countries. I have heard rumours of massive money laundering taking place but I don’t know how true that is. Is this really the “right” way forward for Syria? As the Middle Easts washing machine?

February 7th, 2008, 12:00 pm


Syria said:

SYRIA: Wealth gap widening as inflation hits poor


February 7th, 2008, 1:38 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

Thanks for the reference.
I was quite taken aback by this paragraph from it:
“According to a recent survey of 1,000 people in Damascus conducted by the Syrian Economic Centre (SEC), 70 percent of respondents believe their financial situation has “deteriorated seriously” in the last two years.”

And this is in Damascus were the population is relatively rich.

If indeed inflation is 30%, this means that the salaries of employees are being reduced significantly. Were there any wage increases to compensate for inflation?

February 7th, 2008, 4:02 pm


Innocent_Criminal said:


post your article on a seperate blog and place the link here.


I doubt there is THAAAAAT much money laundering in syria. that said i kinda wish there was because its usually a sign that the economy is in pretty good shape. its one of the drawbacks of wealthy economies. as for the comparison with Beirut, well you can say whatever you want about that city, but the nightlife there is world class any move in that direction is a positive thing IMHO.

February 7th, 2008, 4:05 pm


EHSANI2 said:

Dear Syria & Wassim,

The article on the widening wealth gap in Syria is on the mark. As long as two years ago, I started writing on this subject on SC. Following the summer of 2006, I wrote how there is a Syria for the top one million people and another for the bottom 19 million.


When I returned this summer, I also posted an article on the five undeniable facts that I saw during my trip in 2007.


The Four Seasons hotel and Z Bar may upset few people like Wassim who feel like this is not what the currently needs given the wealth gap. I respectfully disagree. Syria has not seen a decent hotel in its capital since the 1970’s. If investors see the need and profit potential to put up more hotels and resorts, we must welcome them with open arms. The market will decide what projects will or will not work not you and I.

The problem in Syria is that economic growth is strong enough for the upper classes but is still too low to absorb the growing ranks of the lower income part of the population. Syria’s other problem is the total breakdown in its taxation system. The ultra wealthy are clearly not paying their share.

A final word on inflation:

The rise in commodity prices is a global phenomenon and is not restricted to Syria. Syria’s monetary policy does not seem to be the reason behind the underlying inflationary forces. The problem is that wages have simply not kept pace with the rising prices for commodities and general cost of living. Economic growth is too weak to absorb the millions of the unemployed, which keeps a downward pressure on nominal wages.

Syria needs to accelerate its liberalization drive. The pace is too slow given the urgent needs for foreign direct investments and an increasing exports trend.

As for the comment on “money laundering”, one wonders what that really means. Any money that finds itself into the banking system has by definition been “laundered”. The suggestion of course is that the money deposited in these banks had come from illegitimate means. Wassim seems to think that this is the case.

February 7th, 2008, 4:25 pm


Shual said:

“For those who love to cut & paste Ha’aretz articles critical of Israel” [….]

OH YES! I like THAT! Lets have a uncritical c&p day of Haaretz-messages. I will start with:

“14:25 – Report: Anti-impotence drug [Viagra] could help IAF pilots operate at high altitude (Reuters)”

An unofficial source that speaks under anonymity, cause of the sensitvity of the matter said that the defense ministry will spend NIS 23.000.000,00 in 2008 to fix the problems with the control modes in the figthers, female ground personel and female relatives of the top-guns. The F16-unit that will use it in “test-fligths” over the Gaza-Strip will be called “KATSAV”-Unit.

February 7th, 2008, 4:39 pm


AnotherIsraeliGuy said:

It is Cialis and not Viagra.

And I see that you are able to make puns in Hebrew, not bad.

But really, why not be useful and convince Hamas to stop firing rockets? You know very well that no country in the world would let rocketing of its citizens go unanswered. Instead of aiming for the moon, how about setting yourself a realistic goal?

February 7th, 2008, 5:52 pm


Seeking the Truth said:

I wonder how much kickback payments were made to allow the building of The Four Season hotel.

February 7th, 2008, 6:55 pm


EHSANI2 said:

You mean by Prince AL-Waleed?

It took four personal meetings with the President following massive delays

February 7th, 2008, 6:57 pm


Nour said:

I don’t know if the “Beirutization” of Damascus is something I would really strive for. I believe that building the economy and improving the average citizen’s standard of living are goals to be achieved but while maintaining Syria’s own character and temparement. Beirut has lost much of its charm as a result of chaotic development that has left the city with no real character. In addition, aside from shopping malls, restaurants, and hotels, there’s really nothing much to brag about in Lebanon. It has a failed economy that is not based on production, and has not provided for the average Lebanese. Syria needs to liberalize its economy, industrialize, and truly advance in the science and technology field if we to see true change.

February 7th, 2008, 7:19 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

Ehsani said
Syria needs to accelerate its liberalization drive. The pace is too slow given the urgent needs for foreign direct investments and an increasing exports trend. ;
this is true,but the major obstacle,is the corruption,the officials keep asking for kickback.
As far AS FOUR SEASON HOTEL, I remember that there was one tree has to be cut the official told Alwaleed that this is important tree and can not be cut, after six months haggling Alwaleed paid one million lira ,and the official agree to cut it,this is how rediculous corruption is in Syria, it took more than four meeting between Alwaleed and Bashar.

February 7th, 2008, 8:10 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Aren’t you putting the cart before the horse?

Syria needs to liberalize its economy, industrialize, and truly advance in the science and technology field if we to see true change.

In order to advance into the science and technology field, you need scientists and technologists.

Maybe Syria should start with the humble Lebanese model first (“shopping malls, restaurants, and hotels,”) before branching off into space exploration and gene splicing?

February 7th, 2008, 8:25 pm


Alex said:


That was few years ago … now things are better. Newer projects are not suffering from the same corruption and bureaucracy that the four seasons suffered from few years ago.

There are huge projects announced and ready to move ahead like this one






But of course there is still a lot of corruption… it is a looong road head.

February 7th, 2008, 9:29 pm


Nour said:


I didn’t mean my comment to be taken as a demeaning shot at Lebanon. I would love for Lebanon to truly advance as much as I would love for Syria to do the same. But building hotels and restaurants is not a step toward space exploration and gene splicing as you mockingly stated. You have to have a real intent and an actual plan to reach such a phase, and focusing your economy merely on tourism and services won’t get it done. I am saying that for both Lebanon and Syria there needs to be a move toward true industrialization and economic reforms. You say we need scientists and technologists, but servicing foreigners is not going to create these scientists and technologists. To do that you must encourage industries, build research institutions, and devote funding to academics. Lebanon has never been serious in this regard, and thus was never a truly advanced state economically. This is why I’m saying that the “Beirutization” of Damascus or the “Lebanonization” of Syria is not really something to strive for. Rather, both Lebanon and Syria need to implement economic policies based on production.

February 7th, 2008, 10:25 pm


Nour said:


As much as I enjoy seeing the sights of attractive buildings and plazas in Damascus, such projects do not interest me as much as industrial and academic projects do. The fact is that building these nice structures will not significantly improve Syria’s economy. Only a focus on industrialization can truly take us to the next level and put us on a par with the advanced nations of the world.

February 7th, 2008, 10:29 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Again, I would say that you are imagining industrialization to be a process that you can simply ‘opt for’, as though it were an item on a menu.

Tourism and services are a means to an end. They are a way to employ your population, put money in people’s bank accounts, accumulate savings and investments, send children to college, help produce that next generation of scientists and technologists. Sure, you need economic planning, but it’s difficult to plan for building an advanced industrialized economy without other sectors … like tourism, real estate development, financial services, etc.

Many Syrians I’ve met like to imagine that Lebanon is a superficial little capitalistic Montecarlo-ized version of Syria. This is not true. The tourism industry in Lebanon is healthy (and would be healthier if the political situation were more stable). The services sector is also strong. Plus, Beirut remains the center of the Arabic publishing world, and continues to vie with the Gulf in terms of media/satellite channels, etc.

You say that Lebanon has never been serious with regard to encouraging industries, building research institutions, and devoting funding to academics. With regard to the first of the three, it’s pretty vague but I’ll grant it for the sake of argument. As for the latter two, I respectfully disagree. Lebanon’s universities are among the best in the Middle East. The number of AUB graduates among the Arab World’s most successful doctors, business people, politicians, journalists, and researchers is staggering. The Ph.D. programs have been brought back online, less than twenty years after the end of a huge civil war, and the endowment has just completed a very successful capital campaign.

I understand that you have good intentions toward Lebanon, but I would not dismiss it as a model for economic success so easily. There are many many problems with our economy, for sure, but I don’t see how you will avoid them by ignoring tourism and services.

February 8th, 2008, 3:16 am


Nour said:


I wasn’t suggesting that Lebanon should ignore tourism and services. However, turning Lebanon into a purely tourism and services country has done nothing to build a strong economy in the country. Even prior to the civil war, Lebanon’s economy was mediocre at best with a large percentage of Lebanese living under the poverty line and with whole regions totally neglected and underdeveloped. To say that Lebanon has some of the best universities in the Arab World doesn’t really say much because the Arab world in general is severely lacking in academic advancement. Keep in mind that educated Lebanese have always had to move to foreign countries to find jobs, as high end jobs have always been very scarce in Lebanon.

To give an example of what I mean, France is known to have the largest tourism industry in the world. Yet, if France was to be stripped of all its industrial, agricultural, and academic sectors and rely solely on its tourism and services to run its economy, what do you suppose France would turn into? I again stress that industrialization is the only way to move forward and build a strong economy. I am not suggesting that it is an easy step, but it is something that must be truly strived for. Otherwise, we are going to turn into a carribean style country that relies solely on services and cannot provide prosperity for the people.

February 8th, 2008, 3:53 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


Agreed. Thanks.

February 8th, 2008, 9:17 pm


Dr Riad Awwad said:

The Arabic – Islamic world in 2007:
Borders of terrorism and politics collide
By Riad Awwad

As we leave behind the year 2007, with its good and bad parts, we must conclude that the Arabic Islamic world today is the same as it was yesterday and will remain the same tomorrow.
The international situation is marked by conflicting debates upon Islam, conflicting because of, in the first place, the interference between the borders of politics and the terrorist phenomenon in this Arabic Islamic world marked by political crisis and territorial debates.
The Arabic economies pas a regressing process, while the huge energetic and material resources from these territories are controlled by dictatorial regimes who, not in a few cases, use them to emaciate their own people and fund terrorist organizations and networks, for the export of future martyrs who kill innocent civilians in the name of Allah.
While the price of a barrel gets close to 100 dollars, the economic state of Islamic regimes is far from stable and progressive.
A short retrospective on the events that took place in 2007 will bring up the following:
1. The fall of the Palestinian government not more than 1 year after its birth because of the lack of representation for the expectancies of the people and its “serving” towards Iran and Syria who, frightened by the results of the international investigation regarding the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Al Hariri, try to stop by any means the election of a new president in Lebanon.
2. In Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorist and destructive manifestations continue uninterrupted, as if the Muslims are trying to demonstrate to the occident that they are their own enemies.
3. The continuing of internal tensions and torment in Pakistan, after the return of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Butho, and after the proclamation of the “exceptional state”.
4. The tensions between Turkey and P.K.K, on the background of the claims of Kurd ethnics in Syria, Iran and Turkey to have their own country in this geographical area, claims considered a natural fact.
5. The continuous degradation of the situation in the Sudanese province Darfur, where the government in Khartoum, controlled by Sudanese Arabs, denies the existence of African origin tribes and imposes the canonic Islamic right by force on the provinces where non Muslims live
6. On the gulf level, Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been invited, for the first time, at the reunion of the Gulf Cooperation Council, participation which, far from offering the occasion of conciliation between Iran and the surrounding Arab world, has deepened even more the already existing hostility, mainly because of the territorial debates upon the three islands in the Gulf, now under the occupation of Teheran – Abu Mussa, Great and Small Tomb.
The American options for military interventions in Iran linger from inefficiency to danger, and start to loose their “charisma”, after the report of the American secret services stating that Iranian nuclear programs have been stopped for four years now.
In his book “State of democracy”, Israeli writer Nathan Sharansky underlines with no regret de paradoxes launched by Samuel Huntington about the clash of civilizations, based on the idea that underdevelopment in the Islamic world makes living with it impossible. In an era of fast inter reasoning, politics and universal economics and social matters, in an era of globalization, the Arabic Islamic world lives, continuously, isolated within itself and in conflict with its own identity, in a climate of civil conflicts and wars, of disorientation , anarchy and waiting. Moreover, this is happening while the importance of the geographic and economic role of the Islamic Arabic world increases; the hard competition for its oil resources becomes harder, Arabic brains leave their countries for the occident. In the USA and Europe live, today, over one million citizens holding a masters degree obtained in the Occident, not to remind of the businesspersons, artists, experts and workers in different areas, whom all come from this territory. Islamic and Arabic capital placed abroad surpass 1 trillion dollars, while more than one million Arabs are looking for work in Europe because of the scarce situation in their home land.
In 2007 as well as in the past years, the Arabic Islamic world is lead by totalitarian and overwhelming regimes, too little interested in what is going on around them. Israel, the only democratic state in the region, continues to be criticized by the Arabic dictators and Jerusalem, city of peace, continues to be the main obstacle in the way of this peace.
The Annapolis conference, held in November, brought to light the existence of several differences: the lines of the future borders of the Palestinian state to exist by the Israeli state, the “breaking” of Jerusalem, the tearing of Israeli colonies, the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes etc.
Where can it begin? We think the treatment of the illnesses that the Arabic Islamic world suffers from, which brings it every day closer to the unknown, and in which Islamic extremists, who do not accept criticism or dialogue, are convinced that the only purpose of human beings is to idolatrize God, that the earthly world is only a pathway to paradise and to eternal allegiance to terrestrial dictatorial regimes, to the conversion of sheep like people to the Islamic religion. There are Muslims who believe themselves to be the holders of absolute truth in the name of which they committed the acts of September 11th, then the crimes in Madrid, London, daily crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Sudan, Algeria, Kosovo. The freeing from political totalitarism and the inherited traditions is the only way for the real Muslim to overcome fear, because the fatidic allegiance to the will of terrorism and dictatorship dehumanize him, mostly in the contemporary world where the Arab governments lead a taught campaign to denigrate the occident, in order to keep their own privileges and positions, to flush away the “ghost” of democracy, freedom and peace. The Arabic Islamic regimes cannot forgive the Americans for bringing down a power – the one in Iraq – and for appealing for democracy and reform in the region, just like the Taliban people cannot forgive them for bringing down the regime in Afghanistan. This is mainly why we believe this kind of politics will continue uninterrupted and with no perspective of some kind of change.
During the soviet missiles crisis in Cuba, president Charles De Gaule refused to analyze the pictures taken by the satellites, of the missile launching ramps in the country, stating he needs no proof of such things to convince himself. “President Kennedy’s word is enough for me”, he said at the time. Yes, in those times the word of the American president was a sufficient warranty by itself. Today, under president Bush’s administration, things differ on an elementary basis and this is why, perhaps, the forces of extremism and terrorism find space under the warm sun, and the danger of a third world conflagration in the name of man and civilization lurks ever closer.

February 20th, 2008, 8:15 pm


Dr Riad Awwad said:

By Riad Awwad

Synthetically speaking, terrorist mentality can be considered as a characteristic name given to the period following de events on September 11th. It’s not a new phenomenon in history, as it exists for a long time now, but lacking space for manifesting itself in the free democratic societies of the modern world, short of moral benches and social premises. We find though an unprecedented development of this mentality in a series of Islamic societies, formed under the burden of some corrupted Islamic dictatorial regimes.
The conflict between the terrorist organization Al-Qaida and the rest of the world is the most vivid expression of what we call terrorist mentality. It’s not about, as we sometimes may consider, a conflict between civilizations, a fight involving this organization and the human civilization in its whole, just as we do not find ourselves in front of a “clash” between the Islamic world and civilization, Muslims themselves being victims of Al-Qaida and Bin Laden`s mentality. The growing threats upon intellectuals, cultural inclined people and all the others who have the courage of not sharing the way in which the terrorist thinking interprets Islam represents a serious threat for the democratic world, which thinks that the church and the state exist to serve society and not that society was created to serve the state and the church. The sole thing that, in these democratic and free societies, can not be contested is the right to criticize and have a different opinion. In Islamic societies though, the individual finds himself constrained totally to obeying the power and religion, self-proclaimed as absolute instruments of Divinity.
In our opinion, today’s Islam needs a “surgical intervention” through which religion should be separated from the “worldly things” because, like Abraham Lincoln said, those who deny the right of others to freedom do not deserve themselves to be free. Healthy education is one of the fundaments of the human being and a social instrument through which communication and harmony amongst people is achieved and, mainly because of this, when education and culture are infested by radical perceptions, it produces lack of major discrepancies on the level of the entire social structure. An individual carrier of such viruses will only understand culture as Jihad, violence and hatred, with all the negative impact they bring on civilization and communication with other societies. In this frame, we can state that Muslims live exclusively focusing on their own universe, incapable of dialogue not only with other human communities, but also with the “insides” of the community of which they are part of and in which they are grouped in sectarian confessions, hostile one to another and in permanent challenge.
We posed a series of questions which we find suited to reproduce:
1. Why the Arabs and the Muslims left the trajectory of progress, followed by others with no interruption ?
2. What is the defining structure of these people, what makes them different or alike, from and with others ?
3. What is their religious and cultural background and to what extent has it contributed to their progress or downfall ?
4. Is the concept of “pure salafism” the factor which gives them glory and power ?
5. Which alternative is to prefer: turning to account the inherited values or the systematic brake from them ?
6. Do the Arabs and Muslims cross a cultural crisis, or are we looking at an ideological and social crisis of communities governed by totalitarian regimes ?
7. Is the oriental Islamic world capable of conciliation with the democratic world on the level of values and mechanisms, or it remains a culture as itself and for itself , grim in the dialogue with those who do not share its beliefs ?
8. Why is the main feature of the Islamic inheritance a partisan one, warlike, one of violence ? (“the sword is a better advisor than the book”)
9. Does Jihad represent a national and religious orientation, or a political one (Hezbolah, AlQaida, Hamas) ?
10. How can the modern Arabs from Europe disseminate their ideas ? Why haven’t the secularized Muslims managed to make their voices heard , remaining dependent to the despotism of Al Kawakibi, who’s book “Totalitarism” is still popular, just like Machiavelli’s “The Principe” ?

We look to answering all of these questions in the following numbers of our publication.

We shall concentrate, briefly, on the matter of human rights in the Arab – Muslim world. We will observe that man’s natural right comes from his duty to serve God and circumscribes to the strict order of Islamic canonic right(shari`a) which organizes and dominates his life and can not be submitted to critics or interpretations. In Islam, human rights are duties imposed by dogma, which have to be protected and carried to duty by the state, the community and the individual. When the majority of Islamic states are ruled by dictatorial regimes, notions like democracy and human rights becomes instruments of propaganda and sterile slogans. Democracy is absent even on the social level of the family. The man is the absolute master, and the woman has the status of absolute slave, while the children, exposed to this drama, can easily become victims of terrorist ideologies.
On the level of the state, Islamic governors consider their countries as personal tribes, inherited from their fathers, and of which they dispose freely. They are the only ones who can decides the rights and duties and who decide the future of the tribe and society. This is the environment where the terrorist mentality germinates and grows.
We consider that in the Muslim countries governed by the principles of Islamic dogma, human rights are broken in several domains:
Religious freedom: Islam imposes to one who is born in this religion or embraces it, the impossibility of ever switching from it, leaving it; lacking to do so is punished by death;
Women’s rights, which is set at a lower level than the man by Islamic precepts: she can only marry with the approval of her tutor or father; once married her husband becomes her absolute master, and marriage can only be broken by the husband by divorce; the husband has the undisputed right to be polygam. All of these facts and many others explain why a series of states refused to sign some international agreements on women’s rights.
Rights of sexual minorities: total infringement of Islamic law, a possible marriage between two man or women is punished with death.
Jihad as an obligation of fighting against the non Muslims, Today, a strong fundamentalist current is developing in the majority of Islamic states, gaining basically the dimensions of a fixation, an obsession. European states are promoters of respect for peace, the opinion of “the other” and truth, while not few of the Islamistwhich they host just fake the European values and make a mask for themselves out of them, to little preoccupied by the respect for the countries and societies that accept them and host them, giving them social and financial security. Events that took place in Madrid and London speak for themselves.
Uncensored campaigns launched by Islamist environments after the publishing of so called caricatures of the prophet in the media are nothing more than an impulsive manifestation of this extreme mentality which we were discussing.
We dare to believe that an obscure force wishes to attract Islam in an open conflict with the western civilization and we believe that Islamic regimes have the duty of approaching the relationships with the western world more cautiously. Movements and currents in the Islamic world have the duty of recognizing electoral democracy on their territories and moreover, to impose it, in the conditions that the ballot boxes are a complete blasphemy for the radical Islamists; and the sustainers of the idea are spreading like mushrooms in the Muslim world.
Unfortunately, when an Islamic state engages in electoral competition, the role of the CEB is taken by the mosque, like it happened in Algeria or in the free Palestinian territories. A disappointing alternative, because the victory of Islamic factions in ballot boxes has nothing to do with democracy or free will, or peace. An “Islamic” democracy where the women’s right, in the name of democracy, is forbidden in the parliament, in the government , in diplomatic missions, in which the society is split in men and women, Muslims and non Muslims, in first hand and second hand men.

February 20th, 2008, 8:16 pm


Dr Riad Awwad said:

Syria, Iran: Lack of police making, and the open gates of Lebanon
By Dr : Riad Awwad

With the debut of the year 2008 and after the speeches of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who announced the ending of contacts with Damascus in order to reach an agreement on the situation on Lebanon, the international community could believe that Syria’s role in the matter has ended, appreciating that the Damascus regime interprets today’s international evolutions not in 2008`s language but in the one of the `70s which has become obsolete, passing in the pages of history.
The Syrian regime wished, very probably, to demonstrate to Paris that Lebanon’s situation could not be solved in Beirut, but only in Damascus who wants but a settlement based on the ruins of this poor and peaceful country. If Lebanon had been a great producer of oil, probably the world would have been a lot more interested in what is going on there and of Damascus’s behavior that wishes a copy of former president Emile Lahoud to be installed in Beirut. A wish to which the internationally agreed upon candidate, Michel Slemaine, does not come close to.
Far from wanting to have a positive role, congruent to the way the international community thinks, Damascus does nothing more than playing a negative rapture, arranged by Iran who, in it’s turn, is confronted with serious problems generated by the nuclear arms file which preoccupies the whole world through the perspective that one day it could be put in the hands of Islamic extremists.
The world crosses today an unstable period in which America, the sole international cop, seams to lack time to analyze the dictatorial regimes that obstruct the realization of Iraqi – Iraqi harmony or who dictate the dissemination on death and destruction in Israel, or sabotage any good intentions of the international community in Lebanon. This can explain France’s refusal to continue diplomatic contacts with the Iranian backed up Damascus, although Paris had proposed a basketful of rational measures for electing a consensual president, and the constitution of a national unity government, with proportional representation for all parliamentary parties, and the elaboration of a new democratic election law. The leader of the Lebanese majority stated, in Ryad that: “Syria wants a solution to the situation in line with its clients wishes, not with the needs of Lebanon”, adding that Damascus is convinced that a solution can only be reached in Syria. Syrian minister of external affairs, Walid Al-Moallem declares that the solution depends on General Michel Aoun and he, in his turn, says that the deciding factor is Hezbollah, which if expressed differently, means that the solution lies in the hands of Teheran. The pro Syrian opposition accuses the parliamentary majority of obedience to the Occident and America, forgetting though that it is itself obeying Syria and Iran. Taking sides and making favors cannot be divided; it’s an act of betrayal, whatever the identity of the protector is.
This time Hezbollah will use force to impose, whatever the cost, the orders of Teheran and Damascus. In the 2006 war this faction used to bring salutations to the parliamentary majority, only to undermine its authority afterwards, only because it was ordered to do so by the Iranian and Syrian regimes, forgetting or faking to forget its terrorist character, worldwide known. Who pays more gets served first.
In the Declaration of Constitution from 1985, it was stated clearly: “We (Hezbollah) are the sons of the nation named Hezbollah who first saw the light of day in Iran as main nucleus of the world Islamic state. We are obedient to the fair ruling of the sole supreme leader, inheritor of the teachings of the eternal imam Ruhollah Khomeini”. In his turn, the former leader of Hezbollah, Sobhi Tofaili, agreed textually: “He who states that Iran has no interest in Lebanon is a liar. The decision does not lie in Beirut, but in Teheran. Ibrahim Al Amim, responsible of the leadership of Hezbollah stated recently: “We are not a part of Iran. We are Iran in Lebanon itself!” On 4 august 2006, general secretary of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah declared for an Islamic Iranian publication: “Our parties dream is to constitute one day the Islamic Lebanese Republic, the only way to secure the future and peace of this society”. About what kind of stability Nasrallah speak, we shall find out soon enough.
In no other part of the world the government can not be elected before the president. In Lebanon though, it’s a glance of external intrusions. After all the diplomatic efforts made by America, France and the Arab community , Damascus an Teheran began to fight over the inexistent ministerial chairs in Beirut. None of the sides takes in consideration that the representation in the government has to be proportional with the one in the legislative body. The pro Syrian and pro Iranian opposition wishes not less than 11 ministries, next to the 14 that should reach the majority, to which another 5 ministers would add named by the president who, in his turn, is supposed to answer to Teheran and Damascus.
Today the solution depends on the actions of the peace and democracy loving forces who have the duty of closing Lebanon’s gates in front of the forces of evil and terrorist extremism to take to justice the killers of ex prime minister Rafik Hariri and to make harder the measures against Iran who, with its actions, threats the whole international community.

February 20th, 2008, 8:16 pm


Dr Riad Awwad said:

By Riad Awwad
“Lebanon of democracy” and “Switzerland of the Middle East”, like it is being called, has become a country in witch anarchy and destruction have settled, especially after the assassination of former prime-minister Rafik Al-Hariri and after a series of other political assassinations to witch personalities of a certain political color, different from the one of the foreign presence, have fallen victims. Once the Syrian army retreated from Lebanon, in 2005, after a 30 year presence in this country, Lebanon found itself before the imperative to eradicate the chaos created by international interferences (Syria, Iran, Israel) and the one of the great powers (USA, France).
The acting president, Emile Lahoud, ends his mandate on the 23rd of November 2007, so Damascus will lose a chief of state Lebanese by identity and Syrian by mentality and feeling. Syria cramps to the Lebanese trump according to the “to be or not to be” law, and the president of the parliament in Beirut, Nabib Berri is also a soldier faithful to Syria, just like the Hezbollah movement, considered to be an active battalion of Damascus in Lebanon, together with other currents and personalities in this country – The Baas party, Syrian Social National Party, or a series of Palestinian factions like “The Peoples Front-General Command, Fattah AL-Islam and so on witch, all, constitute fuel for the Syrian presence on Lebanese territory.
The presidential elections have been postponed three times, and seems will be postponed even further, because the parliamentary majority lead by member of the parliament Saad Hariri together with Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, wish the future chief of state to be of Lebanese extraction and orientation exclusively, a president dedicated to the Lebanese dignity and free of any exterior dependence, while the opposing forces wish the future president to be a simple soldier devoted to Syria, fact witch makes their choice orientated to the superannuated figure of general Michel Aoun, one willing to reach the high position in the state even by stepping over the bodies of the Christian community. Like Nero, he is only interested in power, after he followed Amin Gemayel as president, in 1995, and ruined the country, being then constrained by the Syrians themselves to choose the way of exile in France until the year 2005. Not even the Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir managed to play more active of a role, fearing for the unity of the Lebanese Christians, in this country fallen victim to the ambitions of local and external forces. Iran wishes for a Lebanon that can serve as a combat front with the US and Israel; Syria looks to foreclose the application of the decisions to be made by the international court which investigates the death of former prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri, eventually by repeating the civil war and by enlarging the gap which separates the legitimate government from the pro Syrian-Iranian opposition. The crisis could not be solved, even after the mediation demarches made by The Arab League, France or US. The powerful political cleavage on internal matters, and the external encroachment had both a strong contribution also on this situation.
According to the Constitution, the president of Lebanon is elected with a majority of two thirds, and if none of the candidates reaches this level then he will be elected with a simple majority of votes in the first poll, which, until now, the opposition has boycotted, in the hope that they could superimpose General Michel Aoun, in the conditions of boycotting the efforts for obtaining the majority of two thirds, which means that the perspective of electing a new president remains, at the time, a long way to go.
But in Annapolis , we suppose that a Syrian – American agreement took place, and the name of the general in army Michel Suleiman could suddenly appear in the picture, no one knows for sure.
A president exclusively Lebanese: no one has managed, this far along the way, to truly define the meaning of this dream, and Lebanon – the country of cedars and peace, remains a country resembling a fragile leaf in the winds of a storm, caught between the Syrian hammer and the international anvil, making the Lebanese citizen – be him Christian or Muslim, the only victim.

February 20th, 2008, 8:17 pm


Dr Riad Awwad said:

The Annapolis Conference, new proof that making peace is harder than war…

By Riad Awwad
The Middle East region is, without a doubt, one of the hottest and most sensitive regions of this planet: the cards laid out on the table are confusing, the palette of nuances and colors is proving to be very mosaic like, as the interest of the “great powers” are intertwining and boycotting each other on the majority of occasions. Further more, another element ads to the fear and wiriness and that would be the “radical extremism” found in the programs and objectives of not lesser radical countries.
President George W Bush has launched, for this fall, the invitation to an international peace conference – a peace which, from the looks of it, seams to be more difficult to achieve than a straight up war.
The charisma proven, this far, by the USA is now in the crosswinds as a result of the wary and intransigent spirit witch some currents and personalities promote in Washington. Before the events of September 11st 2001, a simple manifestation of force was enough to discourage extremism, but nowadays, the situation reached in Iraq and Afghanistan pushes for, moreover, pessimism, in an era of globalization and single-pole domination of the world, of encroachments and even more violent connections of terrorism and extremism in the most complex files of the modern world, for accomplishing the most selfish – and with no connection to civilization, peace or tolerance – objectives. And all of this under the most fundamentalist religious cover ever witnessed in history.
If we took a look at the actors invited to the Annapolis conference, we would see that each and every one is tangled in his own troubles and torments, on the internal level, that can restrain the normal development of the peace talks. Talking about peace, we must remember that one who can not make peace in his own home, has no ability of making peace amongst others.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has announced that the surface witch he will request from the Israelis represents 98% of the Gaza Strip and Cisiordania , to witch the eastern part of Israel is added, meaning an approximate of 6,209 square kilometers, with the possibility of a territorial swap or receiving a compensation in money in exchange. Mahmud Abbas has launched numbers, but has not stated if the Israelis gave there ok over them, neither if he is going to be able to over impose them to Hamas. That is not to remind of the way he will be able to impose them, in the first place, to the Israelis.
On the other hand, Syria is requesting the inclusion of the “Golan matter” on the agenda of the conference, as a condition for it to send it’s negotiators to Annapolis. It’s just like the Arabs wanting to exit through the door before even entering.
Egypt, by the way, keeps waiting, proving some excessive caution and fear for the results of the talks in USA, and Israel accuses the Arab part of raising some prequisite explosive conditions witch, once approved, could ruin the government’s coalition in Tel Aviv, even if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert doesn’t seize to assure he will do everything in his power for the conference to succeed.
Mahmud Abbas rejects the idea of a Palestinian state with provisional borders and any exchanges of population with Israel, and Israel’s problems remains as spiky as before: for the Israeli part, the Jerusalem file is forever closed, while the Palestinians consider it to be the mother of all problems and the biggest priority.
Not less sensitive and complex is the issue of the Palestinian refugees and their right to return to their homes. The radicals of each side have lots of contradictory ideas witch most certainly will not lead to any real solution. We advance here the idea that “nationalization” of the Palestinians in the countries where they are situated now with, off course, the payment of some financial compensation for both them and “he host lands”, could offer a reasonable solution to the problem. The refugee ho left Palestine in 1948 as a newborn is now 60 years old and has his own children, grandchildren or even great grandchildren. Who will return to Palestine? The grandfathered father, the children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren? The financial compensations witch we mentioned above could be offered in some kind of program for developing peace and democracy in the region. Speaking about solving a problem before reaching this regulation, means that neither one of the sides involved – Israeli or Arab – wishes in reality to reach a possible peace, like they would prefer living under the spectrum of a possible war, in a climate of religious extremism in ascension, and where some Palestinian forces are used to accomplish goals that have nothing to do with the idea of peace. In such conditions it is not exaggerated to affirm that achieving peace in the Middle East is like some ninth wonder of the world, so hard to conceive, ever harder to achieve.
This year, the chief of American diplomacy, Condoleezza Rice, has been shuttling from Israel to the national Palestinian authority without managing to clarify the details regarding the future configuration of territories which will form the Palestinian state, neither the problem of the 2% proposed as a trade coin or compensation. The situation is even more complicated if we take a look at the intense and contradictious debates between the Israeli political forces and the extreme radicalism of some, like Shahs or “Israel our home”, who refuse any concession to be made to the Palestinians. More elastic opinions can be found amongst a series of prominent politicians like Vice-minister Haim Ramon, foreign affairs minister Tzipi Livni or even the president Shimon Perez. Israel, who in 1967 needed only 3 days to occupy the entire Gaza strip, is struggling for 40 years now in the chains of the “colonial problem”, witch its self has created. On another hand, no one seems to understand or agree upon the future status of Jerusalem. In our opinion, it should receive a status similar to that of Vatican – a state in a state, in witch all confessions and religions live together. Jerusalem is, in equal terms, a sacred place for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Why shouldn’t the flags of peace be held above it , like in some open international and inter religious city, as we all are united by the singleness of God ? What stands against the fulfilling of the dream that peace should substitute radicalism, sectarianism and extremist conduct?
If, in 1948, the Arabs would have recognized the existence of Israel, the Middle East would be today more developed and more prosper then Japan. But in politics the word “if” does not exist and we bare the duty of discussing together the future of our children and our children’s children, because that witch binds us together is more powerful than that witch stands between us.
Unfortunately both the Arabs and the Israelis prefer wasting time instead of using every minute, starting right now until the conference, to assure its success and end once and for all the hatred and blood shed.

February 20th, 2008, 8:17 pm


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