Ambassador Imad Moustapha Critiques National Geographic Article on Syria

National Geographic and the Syrian Embassy in Washington have fallen out over what reality really is in Syria. Read the following N.G. article and letter from Ambassador Moustapha. Then vote in the opinion poll on the left.

National Geographic published a controversial article on Syria, entitled: Shadowland by Don Belt. Ambassador Imad Moustapha wrote an eight page critique of the article, which he argues “is laden with inaccuracies and disinformation.” He explains why it is a “misrepresentation of the Syria.” (I asked permission from the Embassy to publish the letter.)

Poised to play a pivotal new role in the Middle East, Syria struggles to escape its dark past.
By Don Belt
Photograph by Ed Kashi

October 22, 2009

Chris Johns, Editor-in-Chief
National Geographic Magazine
1145 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036

Dear Chris Johns:

It is with a heavy heart and a great deal of indignation that I write this letter to you.  I read with deep disappointment on the pages of your November publication the story on Syria by your editor, Don Belt.  This piece, laden with inaccuracies and disinformation, was a misrepresentation of the Syria that I belong to, and the National Geographic that I have read for decades.

The article draws an unfairly bleak and intentionally inaccurate picture of Syria, reminiscent of the neoconservative literature that was prevalent during President Bush’s era, and in stark contradiction to all current, objective reporting covering Syria.  It is skewed to highlight solely negative aspects of an otherwise vibrant country undergoing tremendous transformations on the social, cultural, economic, and political levels. Moreover, as an avid reader of this magazine since my teenage years, this article seems an outlier in the legacy and spirit of the National Geographic that has made a name for itself by exposing the hidden beauty of cultures and geographies of different parts of the world.  This is a political article par excellence inspired by the most radical neoconservative paradigm, and it saddens me to see this great name of your magazine reduced to a propaganda horn.  I can refer you to the Syrian Studies Association, a neutral and authoritative expert body on Syria that includes over 170 American academics, all of who would unequivocally refute and reject this article.

The author clearly did not approach this project with objectivity; rather, he came with a preset thesis and searched for people and settings to prove his point.  It is equivalent to a third-rate foreign journalist who visits the US, talks to neo-Nazi groups, such as the one who recently killed the guard at the Holocaust Museum; talks to the LaRouche group that declares there is no democracy in this country; talks to inmates in Guantanamo; talks to people living in the ghettos with high illiteracy and low life expectancy rates; talks to crime and drug lords; talks to ignorant folks that think all Arabs are terrorist and must be expelled or executed; and then based on that information, he publishes an article on the ‘truth’ about this great country.  It obviously will be a specious, skewed article. A ‘Borat-style’, if you may –in reference to the Hollywood movie character played by Sacha Baron Cohen.

The bottom line is that Syria is admittedly far from a perfect place.  Although the author unfairly focuses on the mukhabarat legacy of Hafez Assad while ignoring how much he helped transform Syria, he makes a point in depicting that President Bashar Assad had much reform to undertake.  However, to show that Syria is still a tenebrous place where people live in fear, where education is lagging, bookstores are dated, factories are defunct, progress is stagnant, run by ‘Beverly Hillbillies’ and mobsters, and lacks entrepreneurship and opportunity is an egregious fallacy.

It also seems that while the First Family of Syria opened their doors and lives to the author in full transparency and candor, he reciprocated with spleen and a supercilious attitude.

Sir, I have included a point-by-point critique of this article.  I hope you take the time to read them carefully.  Unfortunately, the disinformation, lack of objectivity, and unprofessionalism exhibited in this piece assure me that the relationship between your foundation and my country has been permanently damaged.  Indeed, I believe that many other countries in our region will reconsider their working relationship with your organization when they are made aware of this incident.

Imad Moustapha
Ambassador of Syria to the United States of America

Cc: Terry Adamson, NGS Executive Vice President; Don Belt, Senior Editor

Detailed critique of the article:

“Shadowland.”  This is the first word in the article on the opening photograph.  This is not what the author saw, but what he perceived Syria as before setting foot there on his last trip.  It sets the stage for how he approaches this article, by pithily and hastily listing the drastic positive developments in Syrian society, while digging meticulously and painstakingly to find people and images that would fit his ‘shadowland’ theme.

The opening passage of the article is indicative, truly setting the tone for the article.  This comparison with the Corleone’s is an analogy that neocon, Israeli, and other writers wore-out during the previous eight years in an attempt to veil all of Syria’s reform and development behind a specious veil of a ‘mob-like’ ruling family.  People like Jonathan Schanzer, Trudy Rubin, Eyal Zisser, and even the somewhat unbiased Flynt Leverett and David Lesch have used this analogy on several occasions, especially when Bashar Assad first came to power, rendering it an unimaginative, boring tautology.  More importantly, the University of Maryland, along with the Zogby International Polling, conducted an opinion poll in six Arab countries earlier this year (all US allies), Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, and the UAE, which showed that President Assad was the most popular figure amongst Arab leader.  These results consolidate those of last year’s, where President Assad also came in first place as the most popular Arab leader.  While you might disagree with many of President Bashar Assad’s policies, these numbers year in, year out, indicate that he is actually standing for the demands of his people in particular, and the Arab street as a whole.  To turn the reality around and make him into a mere ‘mafia don’ is unjust.  A mafia don would not capture the imagination and hearts of the Arab street in such a fashion.  Moreover, my understanding is that the author spent several hours with President Assad and his wife, discussing all issues, and even took a trip with the First Lady.  This makes me wonder how can such a ‘mobster’ family, or a ‘Soviet-like’ family as he also likes to describe them, provide him with so much access.  One thinks of mobsters and soviet-era leaders to be secretive, not to allow such access for an unknown journalist.

“Iran pilgrims at the Omayyad”: This is an example of the image the author tries to draw.  The Omayyad mosque that is always bustling with visitors from around the world and from all different backgrounds, is confined to ‘Iranian pilgrims.’ Anyone who visits it, knows that it is a tourist and religious attraction for Christians as much as Muslims, foreigners as much as locals.  Obviously, singling out Iranian pilgrims aims to make specific hints, and adds a certain touch to his pre-conceived story.

“Bab Touma Police Station”: This is the first of many very disturbing distortions and actual lies in the article.  As a Syrian who grew up constantly visiting the Bab Touma area, I can assure you that not only have I never heard the so-called ‘screams’ from the police station, but I have never even heard of such procedures taking place in such a station.  Anyone with basic knowledge of Syria knows that a police station is not involved in any political procedures, interrogations or not.  Moreover, Bab Touma is the second most touristic place in Damascus (after the Omayyad mosque) and it is ludicrous to think that there would be such horrible interrogations taking place among the tourists and visitors of that area.  In fact, this area has underwent the most transformation in the city as the public and private sectors focused on reviving the old city, promoting it into a premier tourist destination by turning its old houses into boutique restaurants and hotels.  Thus, as one reads this awful depiction of screams, seemingly out of a thriller novel, we have to question whether there is any proof for such theatrical stories. I challenge you to find any Syrian who would confirm this woven tale.

The novel continues with Syrians casting “each other knowing glances, but no one says a word.  Someone might be listening.”  Again, a thriller movie taking place in the most awful of places would not contain such descriptions.  Instead of wasting time weaving fables of interrogations and states of fear in Bab Touma, the author could have talked about the beautiful maze of streets and houses that is Bab Touma, dating back centuries, and adorned with beautiful Damascene jasmine overflowing from behind every wall, and shyly bending into the streets as if inviting passers into these beautiful antique homes.  He should have discussed the mosques and churches that stand side-by-side.  He should have described the over 120 boutique restaurants and hotels, which although seem numerous, you still have to make reservations months in advance in order to find room.  That is the heart of the oldest continually inhabited city in the world, which alas, the author renders it a fable of an imaginary torture cell. In reality, the sounds you hear there are not those of “blood-chilling screams”; rather the sounds of giddy locals and tourists sharing a drink and a bite under a Damascene moon, and to the sounds of church bells and Muslim call to prayer.  This is the Bab Touma I grew up knowing, and it is the one I visit every year.

“The Assad regime…by a combination of guile and cozying up to more powerful countries, first the Soviet Union and now Iran.” A brief overview of Syrian political history shows that Syria always maintained an independent foreign policy from either the Soviet Union or Iran.  During the so-called ‘cozying’ to the USSR, Syria engaged with the US on the Peace Process, while disagreeing with the USSR on many issues, including Lebanon.  Also, during that time and later, Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush, and Clinton all either visited Damascus or met President Assad in a third country.  Of course, Syria was known to be closer to the Soviet Union, but it was the Cold War, and all developing countries had to take a side.  The Americans took the Israeli side, Syria was forced to turn to the Soviets, all while maintaining good relations with the US.  As for Iran, it is US policy in the region, and its previous attempts to isolate Syria –something which is eerily brought to mind through this article –that brought Syria and Iran even closer.  If the author was honest, or maybe just knowledgeable, he would note that Syria is actually ‘cozying up’ to Turkey, which has become Syria’s closest ally in the region, politically and economically.  We just removed border barriers between Syria and Turkey and our trade amounts to $2.4 billion, as opposed to the mere $0.5 billion of Syrian-Iranian trade.

Relations with US “never good”:  on this topic, all I have to remind the author of is: a) Syria and the US were allies during the Gulf War, fighting side by side against Saddam’s troops, and b) the cooperation on Al-Qaeda which then-Secretary of State Collin Powell described as “saving American lives” in a formal letter to Congress.

The author then sets the premise of the article, stating that as there is a new administration “hungry for success in the ME,” and that we need to know if anything has changed in Syria –implicitly asking if there is change that constitutes this engagement.  Obviously, the author is indirectly arguing in this article that there is not much change, or it is still ‘struggling to escape its dark past’; thus, implying that maybe Syria is not ready for engagement.  Now if this was an op-ed in the Washington Times or the Weekly Standard I would understand, because first, they always discourage US-Syrian rapprochement, and second, because they focus on such matters of policy.  Never, though, did I imagine that the National Geographic Society would advocate such a malicious policy of disengagement within its covers.  After all, one of the founding principles of the magazine was to build bridges with the rest of the world, was it not??

“Tending to its crippling internal disrepair”: I find it hard to believe that President Assad “acknowledges” such a description.  I have heard him say on several occasions that there is much room for reform and improvement, even humbly admitting that reforms are not where he hoped them to be.  Still, Syria has registered an economic growth of over 6.2%, according to World Bank figures, and I find it hard to believe that it could do so with “crippling internal disrepair,” just as I doubt the President would describe it as such.  Still, if he did “acknowledge” such short-comings, it does not strike me as something a ‘mobster’ does.  Does it?

The author then gets lost in describing the town of Qurdaha –which any observer of Syrian politics would easily tell you that it is not quite a center of power as it might have once been or as the author shows it to be.  The author returns to his Soprano-esque style, describing “regime officials…flaunting their unfettered power by padding around town in the pajamas.”  Again, it is either ignorance, or the author’s fascination with the mafia theme that makes him write such fallacies.  If one visits any coastal city in Syria, it is a common sight to see people walking around in pajamas, women more than men.  It is a very rural theme in Syria, and you can even see it amongst farmers in most Syrian villages.  The notion that only gangsters do that is a purely American/Hollywood one, and can be viewed as very patronizing to Syrian citizens.

The author then describes Syria as “ethnically volatile.”  This is also a very egregious statement that would offend most Syrians.  Lebanon is known to be ethnically volatile, not Syria.  Syria has always been an example of co-existence (something attested to by Popes John and Benedict).  The most vivid proof is our long history of coexistence, where violent incidents between ethnicities and sects are almost nonexistent.  Historically, different religious and ethnic groups have fought side-by-side for independence, formed governments and coalitions together, and traded amongst each other.  When the Armenians fled the massacre in the beginning of the 20th C., they chose Syria as their destination where they found a safe haven and managed to prosper and flourish.  That would not have been the case if Syria was “ethnically volatile.”  The author then erroneously claims that Hafez Assad protected other minorities “to counterweight the Sunnis.”  Shamefully, the author ignores all of Syria’s history. The ethnic and religious coexistence in Syria far dates Hafez Assad.  In fact, the main figures of Syria’s independence were the likes of Ibrahim Hanano (Kurdish), Saleh al-Ali (Allawite), Sultan Basha al-Atrash (Druze), Fares al-Khouri (Christian).  These forces all then untied under the National Front and coalesced to fight foreign invaders together.  If there is one fact ordinary Syrians take immense pride in, it is their harmonious coexistence for millennia.

The author then uses the “Beverly Hillbillies” analogy. What a condescending way to describe such a proud ethnic group with centuries-old culture and traditions, and who were so pivotal in the independence of Syria.  Any journalist can get “one diplomat” to describe the US, or any other country, in the most disrespectful way, but does that mean it is something to be promoted?

Hama: once again the author regurgitates Israeli and neocon rhetoric in depicting the events of Hama.  If he had underwent any investigative work, he would have discovered that actually the Muslim brotherhood did not just “launch a series of bombing”, but were rather massacring and beheading government officials, along with women who were ‘too liberal’ or did not confine to Muslim attire.  And that the government response never included the air force, but rather, it sent troops and tanks and surrounded these extremist, and in turn a vicious battle ensued similar to the US’s encounter in Fallujah.  Undoubtedly, innocent civilians lost their lives, as unfortunately is always the case, but Syria was facing what many North African countries, such as Algeria, would then face with these fanatics declaring an ‘Islamic state’ in Hama, and trying to spread it to the rest of the country. Also, the numbers of casualties put forth by the author are grossly exaggerated and again, mainly taken from Israeli and neocon authors.  In fact, there is not one neutral source that can substantiate these allegations.

The author then turns to a young man who tells him about Vitamin Wow.  I cannot claim that just like most developing countries, there is not a certain level of corruption –something that the government has committed to fighting.  However, to show only that side raises suspicion.  The author never interviews the thousands of other young men who are involved in the private sector –a sector employing so many of Syria’s youth. He does not interview someone from, say the Syrian Young Entrepreneurs Association that holds job fairs and conferences, and promotes entrepreneurship and opportunity among young adults (one of its own was just named by the Davos-based World Economic Forum among 200 of the most distinguished young leaders in 2009).  But again, such a detail does not fit the black-and-black portrait this author paints of Syria.

Then, the author surprisingly dedicates one section describing in brevity the actual change and improvement in Syria, which is mindboggling.  After all, the ostensible premise of this article was to “ask what, if anything, has changed?” Yet, he briefly and hastily counts the tremendous improvements, such as privatizing banks and industries, opening of a stock exchange, introducing the internet, recruiting highly qualified minds to the government, developing programs for literacy and economic empowerment, etc.  This all apparently does not constitute ‘change’ for the author, and thus, is unworthy of elaboration.  Instead, he is interested in guys walking around in pajamas, 27-year old colognes, and self-woven fables of dons and mafias.

The author then describes Aleppo as “a medieval mosh pit of shopkeepers, food vendors, gold merchants, donkey carts, craftsmen, trinket peddlers, beggars, and hustlers of all stripes, moving in a great colorful clanking parade of goat bells and sandaled feet.” This could very well be a scene out of Aladdin, which although many in the West find amusing and enchanting, the Arab world finds offensive and emblematic of colonial and Orientalist rhetoric.  The late Edward Said would undoubtedly been outraged by it and considered it further flagrant proof to his treatise on “Orientalism”.

The author then claims that in the 70’s, Syrian officials wanted to bulldoze the Old City (which is already somewhat difficult to believe), until the residents prevented it from happening.  Yet, the author claims that this was a time of “Mao and Stalin” style of dictatorship -“when dictators were dictators.” The author though fails to explain how such a ‘dictatorship’ would heed to the complaints of the people on such a colossal project?!?!

The author then discusses his trip to a state-run factory where he talks to workers with lost fingers and crushed feet.  I will not refute this escapade that he presents, but I am left to wonder why he refuses to take such a trip to some of Syria numerous private factories that he inaccurately describes later as driving prices up and forcing people out of their jobs.  Syria has one of the most productive private industrial sectors in the region, exporting everything from pharmaceuticals to olive oil (Syria is the world’s 4th largest exporter of olive oil) and with international recognition.  These industries and their suppliers provide jobs to millions of Syrians, as well as help catapult Syria on to the international and regional markets.

The section on education is also just as skewed and inaccurate as that of the industrial sector.  To say that “it’s hard to find a bookstore that isn’t full of communist-era tracts,” is either a sign of lack of knowledge or an attempt for deception.  Almost any bookstore in Syria contains a wide range of books from Hemmingway to ‘how to have a healthy sexual relationship’ to theories on capitalism and economic integration. Education wise, private schools and universities in Syria are mushrooming everywhere with internationally recognized curricula.  Even public universities have undergone a tremendous overhaul of their curricula and pedagogical philosophies that is transforming the education process in Syria.  The author also ignores the vibrant cultural scene in Syria widely regarded as the best in the region, with Damascus being elected the Arab cultural capital –Aleppo was the Muslim cultural capital the prior year.  During the year, Damascus put on such a fascinating program of artistic, theatrical and musical performances from around the world, that it received immense international acclaim (more on the cultural scene in the conclusion).

The author then turns to the events of 9/11 and the Iraq war, and their resonance in Syria, where he further demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the events on the ground and their nature.  When the US invaded Iraq, the Syrian street, like all the Arab streets, was vehemently against such a foreign invasion of a fellow Arab country.  However, among all Arab leaders, President Assad was one of the very few that opposed the war, knowing that it would be detrimental to Syria, the region, and more importantly, Iraq (something that ironically the current US president shares with President Assad).  He demonstrated once again that he represented the Arab street more than any other Arab leader.  I am, therefore, confused regarding why the author said that President Assad “diverted the widespread rage in Syria away from his vulnerable regime toward the Americans…” It is common knowledge that the Syrian, and indeed the Arab, street was against the invasion before the Syrian government can take any position, leaving one wondering about the ‘diversion.’  Furthermore, when we take into consideration that the author actually acknowledges the real threat that Syria faced from Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, the “saber rattling” from the US, and the 1.5 million Iraqi refugees –all which the ‘regime’ had nothing to do –we see further signs of self-contradiction regarding ‘diversion’.

The author then addresses the Hariri assassination with worrisome ambiguity.  He states that it “led to Assad’s doorstep.”  This is a misleading statement that leaves much room for dangerous speculation.  If he means that the assassination affected Syria, then it is true, as it eventually led to Syria’s full withdrawal from Lebanon; however, this does not seem to be his intent as he does not mention such withdrawal.  If by “leading” to his doorstep, he means that President Assad is behind it, then this is another blatant neoconservative/Israeli slogan.  There is a UN investigation currently underway to determine the perpetrator and all the reports by the current and previous lead investigators (Bellamare and Brammertz) have commended Syria for its cooperation in the investigation.  Moreover, all objective reporting on this issue has shown that Syria suffered the most from this incident, which would have made it impossible for it to be behind the assassination.  Regardless, the statement is again, dangerously ambiguous and can be seen to have sinister implications.

Finally, the author again talks about a “cloud of fear” in Syria, depicting it as a dark, sepulchral, state.  Yet, when one walks the streets, sits in coffee shops, and reads the paper, people are freely criticizing most anything.  To claim that it is full freedom of speech is an exaggeration; to describe it as a state where no one dares “say a word” is unjust.

To sum up, as a Syrian and as a reader of the National Geographic, I expect a piece on Syria in this magazine to give justice for both.  It saddens me that this article gives none to either.

With a preconceived theme for his article, a “shadowland,” the author (and his photographer) sets off on a journey taking pictures and talking to anyone who would help him paint this theme.  He is clearly obsessed with what Syria ‘was’, or how some neocons view it currently, instead of focusing on what it really ‘is’.  The author completely ignores, or barely brushes on, the recent developments evolving in Syria.  Instead, he spends pages weaving a novel-like description of President Hafez Assad’s rise to power and how President Bashar then came to power, while ignoring the ‘real’ issues of change.  It inaccurately depicts Syria as a remnant of an ‘80’s style communist Eastern European’ state that is drowned in corruption and intelligence, rather than presenting a more accurate picture of Syria, which is one with a vibrant social, cultural, and economic scene.

In the past few years, Syria has witnessed tremendous transformations.  Economically, it has registered one of the highest growth rates in the region.  Financial institutions and banks have mushroomed, stock exchange opened, previously government-run sectors privatized, foreign investment flowing and sparking a wide range of new projects and construction, the only law dedicated to microfinance in the region, among many others –some which this author mentions but does not attribute any value to.  Culturally, Syria boasts some of the most sophisticated art and art houses in the region; one of two opera houses in the region; internationally-renowned novelists and poets; and vibrant film, TV, and theater productions.  Politically, Syria weathered a ferocious attempt of isolation, and even regime change by regional and international powers, all while maintaining an astounding economic growth rate (6.2%) and promoting cultural dynamism.

The author asks “what, if anything, has changed” in the past decade.  These are the true answers to his question.  This is what I would expect to find in the National Geographic.  Not a tale of old cologne, mafia guys in pajamas, and a worn-out saga of a brother ‘forced’ into leadership.  I would leave that to Hollywood.

[end of Amb. Moustapha letter]

The following story is the kind that the authorities in Damascus like — and from Fox News no less.

Fox News goes to Syria: Traditional Bedouin women pose for Fox News

Fox News does Syria: Traditional Bedouin women pose for Fox News

Syria: A Crossroads of Civilizations and Contrasts

Monday, October 26, 2009
By Amy Kellogg
Fox News

DAMASCUS, Syria — The Syrian Ministry of Tourism invited journalists from Tehran to Tunis to check out its top attractions during a trip to the normally reclusive country. Fox News hopped a caravan and went along for the ride.

Weaving through the narrow streets of old Damascus you can see women in modest black Islamic dress, or women in little black dresses. Syria is as diverse in public dresscode as Saudi Arabia is not…..

Also read:

Dawn in Damascus
Oliver August
Conde Nast Traveler, November 2009

This article by Oliver August who has lived in Syria off and on for years makes a nice contrast to the National Geographic article and captures aspects of Syria that Ambassador Moustapha speaks about in his letter. Read the first page for an excellent hook.

Once the center of the Islamic world, the Syrian capital is celebrating a cultural and economic rebirth—despite authoritarian rule. Amid the avant-garde galleries, hip restaurants, noisy souks, and Roman, Christian, and Ottoman architecture, Oliver August finds a city enthralled with its new freedoms

We have been waiting in our theater seats for half an hour when someone starts clapping. I join in, thinking, Hell, maybe this will persuade the actors to come onstage. We hope to see an adaptation of Richard III, subtitled An Arab Tragedy. Shakespeare has been rewritten to critique dictatorship in the Middle East—not something you see every day in Damascus. I worry that government censors have intervened at the last minute. But quite the opposite.

The clapping was initiated, it turns out, by what in the movie business they call a studio plant. When more and more hands join in, a side door opens, and in walks President Bashar Assad—the real one, not an actor—whose family has ruled Syria for longer than I have been alive. He waves awkwardly, his long neck tilted to one side, and sits down a few feet away from me. So this was the holdup. Tonight there are two kings, only one of them onstage. Most of the audience seems unsure which one to watch when the curtain goes up.

In the play, the homicidal Gloucester decides to have himself elected to the throne. This being the Middle East, the election is rigged. Puff-chested minions tell Glouces­ter that he has won ninety-nine percent of the vote. “What about the other one percent?” he cries. “Why did they not vote for me?” The audience guffaws. They can’t help but look over at Assad. In 2007, he won 97.6 percent of the vote in a presidential “election.” Nobody believed the result. Now he is throwing back his head in laughter and slapping his knee….. (Read the interesting discussion about the Assad’s presence at the play by that took place after?)

Pretty in black: These girls socialize in the Umayyad Mosque, but they have other options now—hundreds of cafés, bars, restaurants.

…. Restaurants are old hat already. The new craze is small hotels in historic buildings. Most Syrians I know seem connected to one or another project that aims to install water beds in old courtyard houses with mother-of-pearl-inlaid furniture and gardens of bougainvillea. May Mamarbachi was the first with Beit al Mamlouka, an eight-room gem. She now has competition from the Talisman Hotel, which has a pool, forty-inch TVs, and twice as many rooms (though half were built illegally, it is whispered). Estimates range from ten to fifty small, chic hotels under construction. Can they all make money? Ask not to reason with those caught in rapture. Even the Aga Khan is in on it: He wants to combine three large palaces to form what must be the Macy’s of small hotels.

Credit for this new spirit goes to people like Evelyne Salloum, the twenty-nine-year-old daughter of a local hotelier. In 2007, she opened a rooftop nightclub called Z Bar (think, if you will, of a French lothario saying, “Let’s go to zee bar”). She charges a presumptuous ten dollars for a bottle of beer, and yet up to six hundred guests come on weekend nights. They lounge in seats covered in fuchsia velvet, lit by crystal chandeliers in the spirit of Dolce & Gabbana, and lean against walls covered with black mock-croc fabric. “People dance here like they have been frustrated for years,” Salloum tells me. I ask her, why now? She says that she used to drive the two hours from Damascus to Beirut most weekends to party. But after Hariri’s assassination, when the Syrian military ended its occupation of Lebanon, she suddenly felt no longer welcome there. Unwilling to quit dancing, she decided to replicate Beirut at home. Z Bar is the result…. Read More

Arabian nights: On weekends, up to six hundred people crowd Z Bar and its dance floor. Here, manager Evelyne Salloum.

Comments (104)

Alex said:

“Unfortunately, the disinformation, lack of objectivity, and unprofessionalism exhibited in this piece assure me that the relationship between your foundation and my country has been permanently damaged.”

Does this mean they are banning the NG in Syria?

October 26th, 2009, 9:03 pm


sasa said:

I read that article and loved it. I felt that it was honest (meaning it listed the neo-con grievances and the Syrian government’s positive argument) and original.

I accept all of the Ambassador’s points, though. And yes, there is a bit of clumsy Orientalism here and there. But compared to 90% of articles on Syria, it is fantastic. I wrote why here:

I’d be interested to know what you think Josh…

October 26th, 2009, 9:07 pm


sasa said:

Alex, I’d say so. Ambassador Mustapha probably feels pretty hard done-by. After he (in all likelihood) personally set up the interviews with Bashar and Dardari, to get an article that he thinks is terrible is not very nice.

He says something to that effect: “It also seems that while the First Family of Syria opened their doors and lives to the author in full transparency and candor, he reciprocated with spleen and a supercilious attitude.”

I’d say no NG access to Syrian officials and probably no visas either.

October 26th, 2009, 9:12 pm


Alex said:


I also disagree with the Ambassador to some extent. I do not think the reporter was completely biased. But he was to some extent, and more importantly … he was VERY unprofessional I have to say. Quoting some western diplomat as he describes Alawites as “Hillbillies” is not acceptable at all. Just imagine a National Geographic article about Washington DC having this part: “One European diplomat said that the American capital has been invaded by beasts” … referring to African Americans.

And he met some “opposition” people who convinced him that Qurda7a’s Mafia lords terrorize Syrians and that you hear torture when you sit in Bab Touma’s boutique Hotels …

I have no problem with most of what was written .. by I have an issue with the obvious impression the article leaves through its 90% emphasis on negativity … I don’t think an American reading it will hesitate to cancel his planned first vacation in Syria. Who wants to enjoy lunch in Bab Touma if poor brave Syrian people fighting for democracy are being tortured next door in Bab Touma?

October 26th, 2009, 9:37 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

I read the NG piece, but not the ambassador’s. I have no patience for nuisances.
Syria is fighting a Great (political) Retreat Battle. And it’s ugly,
like any retreat. There’s no way Ba’athism can win.
Not even Mrs. Asma wearing XXSmall T-shirt on SKY channel.
Not even the “trendy cafe’s” in Damascus.
This is a facade, and people aren’t stupid.
And Dear Leader, Mr. president: Indeed a change in mentality is needed.
I assure you that this change will come 1 moment after you’re gone.

Calling NG a Neocon, is professional ?

October 26th, 2009, 9:37 pm


Not the best article on Syria in a decade | Syria News Wire said:

[…] story, Moustapha has issued a detailed critique of a list of points which he calls inaccurate. Josh Landis at Syria Comment has republished the […]

October 26th, 2009, 10:04 pm


hassan said:

Thanks for not disappointing us and once again performing the role of mouthpiece for the Syrian embassy. How could we expect anything different from Josh Landis?

The article was a pretty typical portrayal of Syria. You’ve got the nice descriptions of the Old City (Omayyad Mosque) and the characterizations of Bashar al Assad as a reformer putting Western educated technocrats into his cabinet. Of course, the Ambassador doesn’t like people being reminded that for Syrians, “Living here is something like a phobia,” he went on, smoking a cigarette, dark circles under his eyes. “You always feel like someone’s watching. You look around and there’s no one there. So you think, I shouldn’t have this feeling, but I do. I must be crazy. This is what they want.”

October 26th, 2009, 10:12 pm


jad said:

I agree with you, the article wasn’t professionally written and I was disappointed by the images quality they introduce, couldn’t they get a better photographer?

I guess pretending being smart doesn’t last long because being naïve and super pretentious idiot always win in your case.
I’ll use the same level of your thinking to reply:
Ya Prince ya ajdab, at least our first lady and our president wear normal human being size clothes unlike your fat and dumb ass size 4XL prime minister and his cow wife that he is ashamed to take her out of the farm.
So when you write about fashion look within your country before you criticize other people cloths, how shallow.

I guess your problem of being Lebanese and not begin able to criticize your own same sect leader for their own impotent made you always angry and looking for someone better than you to blame over your own country’s lack of independence, buddy, you need to take it easy a bit and take my advice to Amir, do the changes and the critics within your own society because both of you shows the ignorance of the basic understanding of anything Syrian yet you keep patronizing us about almost everything as if you both live in heaven forgetting that you live in a stinky sectarian, racist tent, respectively.

October 26th, 2009, 10:58 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

I do not want to get in trouble

October 26th, 2009, 11:32 pm


trustquest said:

Someone said, malicious enemy is better than a clumsy friend, in Syrians dialect we say (eja le yekehelha 3amaha: he came to fix it he ruined it). I have to thank Mr. Ambassador for clearing up the article, when I read it first time it was very casual but Mr. Ambassador have proved all the author points by only responding to it. Thanks Joshua.

Last sentence before conclusion is most funny especially after arresting one of the most famous human rights lawyer for just speaking his minds, does the Ambassador knows what free speech he is talking about.

October 27th, 2009, 1:39 am


norman said:

It is interesting how Syria loving Syrians can disagree on the same article ,i guess we all see what we want to see.

October 27th, 2009, 2:09 am


love you alex said:

OXFAN: Excerpts:

” The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) World Investment Report, published last month, showed a year-on-year increase of 70% in foreign investment in Syria for 2008, highlighting the government’s efforts to open up the economy.
Syria has seen a dramatic increase in foreign investment, which is especially noteworthy when compared with Jordan and Egypt

October 27th, 2009, 3:54 am


Pirouz said:

Why is the ambassador embarrassed by Syria’s tourists from Iran? You would think he’d appreciate our business and cultural exchange. But no, it’s all about image and hypersensitivity to Western preconceptions.

Our Syrian cousins deserve better than this.

October 27th, 2009, 5:07 am


Majhool said:

Maybe the ambassador would have preferred a lengthy and passionate portrayal of Syria by Minister Buthayna Sha’ban and Madame Tlas, just like the idiotic American journalistic once did. I hope not.

All in all, I thought it was good article. Actually very positive with regard to the president, which kind of reflect the sentiment of the majority of simple-minded Syrians (I am saying it in a good way)

After all Syrians know that the country is run “mafia-style” and is infected by fear and corruption. However simple as they are, they are always hopeful that he (the president) is well intentioned. I wish he is too

Dr. Landis,

What do you think?

October 27th, 2009, 5:41 am


pamela said:

I read the article and was irked by it , feeling that the nail hadn,t been hit on the head .Also the ambassador can only be expected to defend his country .
There have been enormous changes in the last few years , thats true , but there is so much that needs to be changed .Corruption to start with , lack of industry that will give jobs to the millions of youngsters leaving school and university etc.But I feel that the president is moving slowly and carefully and people generally like him and want to give him a chance .
Mr Belt did seem to focus on cetain things , eg the Iranians in the Ommayad mosque …so what??? I was in the old area last week and came across groups of tourists from as far as New Zealand to USA and every country between , BabTouma , BabSHarki , Hammaedieh was buzzing and it was a joy for me to see it . BAb Sharki has been transformed into a beautiful area, very tourist oriented with the hotels and cafes M Mustapha spoke of . If Mr Belt was really there in Bab Touma which is down the road from Bab Sharki he must have noticed how pleasant it is …and all he mentioned was the screams ???nope , i dont think he was ever there !!!

October 27th, 2009, 7:40 am


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Nice to see you too, JAD.

You and the professor remind me of the 2 old gentlemen, who are on-board
the Titanic, being sure that it will never sink.
Have a safe journey, JAD.

This is how dictatorships fall. It happened exactly 20 years ago:

When this happens, it’s quick, unexpected, bloody and brutal.

October 27th, 2009, 8:07 am


Yaser said:

why is he so apologitic for our relation with the soviet-union and Iran??

October 27th, 2009, 9:40 am


offended said:

it’s quick, unexpected, bloody and brutal.


It’s funny hearing this dramatic description from a Zionist, as this is how I actually imagine the Zionist state would one day collapse. ; )

October 27th, 2009, 10:37 am


SimoHurtta said:

Well as an distant spectator my opinion of the article was that is basically OK but hardly very analytical or neutral. An Americans, who has the political views of an average American, opinion. Nothing more. But it seems National Geographic is nowadays especially interested in making such political “analyses” of Muslim countries and Islam. The latest Finnish National Geographic version’s number has an article about Islam in Indonesia (how democracy and militant extremists are fighting). I am no reader of this magazine so I have no clue how neutral, informative and professional the article is. Finnish National Geographic is published by Bonniers A/S (a big Swedish publicising company owned by the Jewish Bonniers family). The Swedish, Norwegian and Danish versions have that same article. And the Polish version.:)

I suppose that that Indonesia article is a translated version of the German version article Mit Allah gegen die Fanatiker by Michael Finkel, who has a not so good reputation as an journalist. It would be interesting to know if is in the NG’s Indonesian versions included that article. So much I can figure out of the NG’s Indonesian pages the article is not “shown” to Indonesians.

What makes it a bit “suspicions” seems in many past numbers among the normal nature, animals, history etc articles is one “political” analysis of Muslim countries and Islamic extremism. “Strangely” not from other countries, their extremists and leaders.

In June 2009 number was an article Arab Christians written also by Don Belt. Even the article is extremely careful not to piss off the Israeli Jews and their fanatic supporters by avoiding basically all analysis of the “Israeli role” it did piss off them. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC STOOPS TO JEW-HATE and National Geographic: Blaming Israel for Christian Decline

Wikipedia mentions that during Cold War National Geographic gave a balanced picture of the Soviet countries. Well those time seem to be over and National Geographic is turning to a modern “Reader’s Digest” with political aims.

October 27th, 2009, 12:38 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Why am I not surprised by the Ambassador’s response?

Unless a magazine profile reads like something written by the Syrian Ministry of Tourism, then it’s never going to be good enough.

I found the NG article to be pretty good, as these things go.

October 27th, 2009, 1:52 pm


why-discuss said:

Don Belt, Senior Editor of NG is not a favorite of Israeli readers either.

Nat. Geo. lays Christian woes to Israel

National Geographic has long enjoyed unique influence and credibility on the American scene. The publication, which boasts a worldwide circulation of 6.7 million readers, sends journalists to the far parts of the globe and publishes their stories alongside vivid photographs.

Regrettably, the publication abused the trust of its readers in a June 2009 article that veered into political terrain and scapegoated Israel for Christianity’s decline in the Middle East.

In addition to targeting Israel, the article, “The Forgotten Faithful, “ written by Don Belt, the magazine’s senior editor for foreign affairs, offers no honest description of the mistreatment of Christians at the hands of Muslim majority populations in the Middle East…

October 27th, 2009, 2:15 pm


jad said:

Dear Offended,
It’s been a very long time I didn’t read your comments, I hope everything is good from your side 🙂

About the prince, yes he is the Drama Queen of SC, it’s funny that he linked Ceausescu because all of his comments are similar, full of tragedy, very theatricals and crap.

NG articles lost lots of the professionalism used to have before, even in the environmental articles, in the last couple issues they sucks, their level went down lately.
When we know that Mr. Moustafa was personally behind inviting NG to Syria to write an article that would explain his reaction.
Even when they wrote about the Christian exodus from the region and specially the part about Syria the article was worst, showing the Christians as nothing but a mule that the west and america should use for their own benefits.
When it comes to Syria and Lebanon facts NG always use M.R. Izady as their main resource on maps and demography as facts!? just check who is M.R. Izady and you will get my point.

October 27th, 2009, 2:19 pm


Ghat Albird said:

The National Geographic Magazine is not particularly an intellectual’s publication.

Its forte is in publishing, “unusual or rarely photographed people and locattions and evey so often asides reflecting both American biases as well as plain ignorance.

One can in general though point to the absence of any coverage of Israel since its creation by the UN in 1948 that equates with any NG “special” of any Arab country in the ME.

We stopped subscribing to the NG several years ago after it published a demaning photo of an Arab boy on its cover back in the 1980s.

October 27th, 2009, 3:43 pm


Alex said:

No, Mr. Qifa Nabki, that article was not “pretty good”. Bab Touma is not a place where you hear people tortured and as a tourist in Syria you will not be surrounded by moukhabarat agents trying to prevent you from talking to Syrians. The article was not intentionally negative as the ambassador believed (nothing neocon about the author who was quite positive to President Assad for example), but it was utterly stupid because Mr. Don Belt wants to be a fighter for democracy and human rights (read how he covered Pakistan for example) … he dedicated MOST of his story to exposing what is bad about Syria…. no regard for what skewed impression he gave to his readers.

Let him show us that same passion when he covers Israel if he is such a brave fighter for human rights.

Here is a new one form Fox today … I hope you can see the huge difference from the bleak picture that Don Belt reported with the Syria that Francis ford Coppola absolutely fell in love with (and not mentioned in the story, but he is considering buying a house in old Damascus or old Aleppo).,2933,569779,00.html

Syria is home to the ancient black basalt town of Bosra, with probably the best preserved Roman theater in existence. The city of Ebla was an important Bronze Age settlement, and today a major excavation site, a place that thrived somewhere around 2,400 years before the birth of Christ. There’s also the capital of Damascus, the Chapel of St. Ananias, who cured St. Paul of his blindness and initiated his conversion to Christianity, there are the dramatic Crusader castles, and so much more. The country is rich in history and in legend.

Tourism is up — 24 percent more Europeans visited this year. Though the bulk of the tourists to Syria are other Arabs, followed by Europeans, it turns out American tourists are among those on the road to Damascus these days.

The procedure for getting a tourist visa to Syria is straightforward. You fill out an application, send your passport to the Embassy, pay about $130, and get the visa in as little as a working day. The passport cannot have an Israeli stamp in it. There are no direct flights from the U.S. to Syria, so travelers must go via Europe or other countries in the Middle East.

At the ruins of Palmyra, which was at one point a colony of Rome until its beautiful headstrong Queen Zenobia threw off the Roman yoke, I met famed director Francis Ford Coppola. By the way, Palmyra, with its pinkish sandstone ruins that stretch endlessly across the desert, would make a phenomenal movie set. Coppola had been to a few film festivals in the region and told me he had always wanted to visit Syria, so he took the opportunity to come, he said, just as a tourist.

But not any tourist. The red carpet was rolled out for the film legend, who had a private dinner with Syria’s first couple, Bashar and Asma al-Assad. He waxed positive about the country.

“We have felt so warmly received. The people you meet are kind and welcoming. The city (Damascus) is fascinating for so many reasons, relating to history. The food is fantastic. The President, his wife and family are lucid, appealing and able to speak on so many levels. In this way he convinces me he has a vision for the country which is positive.”

President Bashar Assad took over the presidency after his father died in 2000. Assad, who did some of his training as an opthalmologist in London, had initially launched some political reforms, but then backed off a bit. More recently he has focused on economic reforms.

Moving through the country I met other Americans, from Minnesota, from California.

In the city of Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, I met a mother-daughter team in the bar of the fabled Baron Hotel, where the story goes you could once shoot ducks in the swamp from the balconies. More famously, the Baron was where Agatha Christie wrote part of her novel “Murder on the Orient Express.” Baron was quite close to a stop on the route of the famous train. Hotel management is quite happy to show you the bits and pieces of history in the hotel, including the room Christie stayed in, provided it’s not occupied.

The mother and daughter I met at the Baron were from California and said they took a big trip once a year. Often it was to India, which they love. But the daughter told me she was reading a magazine that named Syria one of the 10 most important places to visit in the coming year. She initially thought “No,” but then began reading up, called her mother and said “We’re going.”

A combination of heaps of history and current political developments creates a perfect storm of curiousity and allure for a certain category of American travelers. They join the growing international community of tourists checking out Syria these days.

October 27th, 2009, 5:35 pm


Alex said:

An interesting interview with Khaled Meshal from Damascus (at 18:40)

October 27th, 2009, 5:59 pm


Majhool said:

It looks like that there is a misunderstanding and I am going to clear it up, Torture in police stations all around Syria is the STANDARD PROCEDURE for interrogation. The ambassador is correct in saying that no political prisoners are tortured in these police stations (those are normally tortured at intelligence centers by professionals), but those arrested in theft etc.. are beaten up and tortured regularly.

I used to walk by one of these police stations in my way to evening classes and occasionally I would hear the screaming of some thief getting a heavy beating from the police.

The author although correct, he gave the implicit impression that these were used for political reasons.

Sometimes it seems to me that Mr. Ambassador have had more contacts with the powerless Syrian bureaucracy than with real centers of powers in the 80s and 90s. I will speak of my own experience as I spent endless summers in the beaches and resorts of Latakia and Tartous where the “heads of intelligence services” and their families spent their summers. Indeed, with little exaggeration, they could resemble Hollywood mafia characters.
Images that pops into my head are: thuggish bodyguards, the loud voices; reckless driving, stolen Lebanese cars, shady business deals in chalets; but most importantly lack of civility and sophistication.
I also remember sporadic shootings by teens from the asssad family. Shiek El Jabal (fawaz al assad gang leader, etc… Hell I even remember seeing the head of intelligence beating up soldiers in the middle of the street.

Syria had a dark history in the 80s and the 90s and that period still cast its shadow on its present. I personally still feel that I have no say whatsoever in how Syria is managed, nor can I express it. I also fear that the regime when challenged even mildly could be as ruthless as in days of the Assad the 1st.. there are no guarantees in Syria.

Now back to the mafia topic so After all,
• The richest man in Syria is the president cousin and he is in his late 30s
• The Army unit protecting the regime is headed by the president brother
• The president is the son of the previous president
• Head of the military intelligence for many years is the president brother-inlaw

Sounds like what a mafia would do. No? I believe the president could do more (not the journalist) to change this reality/perception.

One thing that cought my attention in what the ambassador said is that Hafez assad “transformed Syria” but did not explain to what?

Also he mentioned many reforms in the political life; I also wish he had itemized them. At the end of the day, the monopoly on power by the few, suffocation of civil society, and weak rule of law is no one’s fault but the Assads, they need to fix it.

October 27th, 2009, 6:08 pm


Hind Aboud Kabawat said:

Mr. Chris Johns, Editor-in-Chief

Many “facts” and observations in the author’s essay would easily fail a sobriety test. But I was most offended by the author’s remark that one can “hear through a second floor window the blood-chilling screams of men being interrogated” at the Bab Touma police station. This observation could not have been more fabricated and incorrect. I live less than a few hundred yards from that same police station at the center square of Bab Touma. I know most of my neighbours and feel well familiar with life in Bab Touma. On average day, I pass by that station at least twice. Never have I heard any screams coming from that station. Nor have I run into anyone in my neighbourhood that had heard such screaming. I am not known for defending governments transgressions, even my own, but such a flagrant distortion of facts affect not only Syria’s image and it is citizens feelings, but mostly the trust readers place in their favourite publication. While research and reporting has its merits, neither can deny the truthfulness of a first-hand account. So, if we, the original and indigenous inhabitants of that neighbourhood in Damascus have never heard of such screams or even rumours about such screams.
The author’s image in NG of human voices screaming through the night of pain and torture at a police station will certainly win the sympathies of many innocent readers who won’t have the benefit of knowing that Bab Touma is a actually tourist square filled with shops, cafes, and night life. Believe it or not, I am more concerned for my daughter’s safety in Montreal (she is as student there) than in Damascus. A respected publication like National Geographic has a responsibility to produce balanced and factually correct stories. It also has the responsibility to provide its readers with an accurate portrayal of a country that is grossly underrepresented in Western media. Furthermore, National Geographic is clearly not the place for an article laced with political undertones.
As a woman and practicing attorney raised in the city, I have dedicated much of my life to defend the voices of women, prisoners of conscious and the under- privileged in Syria. And although this author’s article is really just some fabricated sentences hastily tacked together, I am most insulted by the undignified attack on my own neighbourhood and the reckless disregard for fairness and balance. And also, stop calling us the Arab Christian minority in Syria, we are not and we don’t feel that way. We are the original inhabitants of the country, have been living there for the last two thousand years and it is a source of great pride for us to be full fledged Syrian citizens

October 27th, 2009, 6:58 pm


Shami said:

Bashar looks more and more like his father but in little more corrupt.They want us to believe that corruption is integrated in the syrian traditional and family behavior so it is spontaneous phenomenon and can not be fought.
Dr Mustapha ,you did fall in your sectarian nusayrite thinking when you tried to look for cheap excuse in order to justify Hama massacre which was the worst massacre in Syrian’s history since the crusader and mongolian invasions who were helped in this by the alikes of Hafez.It was not the brotherhood who mutilated in 1980 after torture till death the body of one of the most prominent syrian surgeon ,Umar Shishakli and left it in the christian town of Mhardah in order to creat sectarian hatred between christians and muslims.
Did you mean that the 300 Kilani familly members killed in Hama,perfectly seculars and less seculars where comparable to al qaida or the algerian GIA ?
Most of the people killed in Hama by the nusayrite militia of Rifaat and Hafez were civilians,from all backgrounds.

October 27th, 2009, 9:58 pm


Majhool said:

when they catch a thief or a prostitute in Bab Touma what do they do with him/her? Coffee and tea? Massage therapy? They beat the crap out of them as far as i know.

INstead of getting stuck on Bab touma, I think it would be wiser to shed some light on the use of torture in syrian prisons if it does take place that is.

October 27th, 2009, 10:57 pm


Nour said:

It’s quite shameful for some Syrians with specific agendas to entertain clear lies and fabrications for the sake of furthering those agendas. Shami, every word you speak clearly expresses your vulgar sectarianism and utter hatred and loathing you hold toward your compatriots who do not belong to your “grand” sect. And by the way, the so-called “nusayri” Rifaat Al-Assad now considers himself a “sunni muslim” and was recently hosted and honored by your favorite country, KSA. Moreover, to claim that the Hama event amounts to the “worst massacre since the crusader and mongolian invasion” is a blatant distortion of events for the sake of satisfying deep-seeded sectarian hatred.

October 27th, 2009, 11:21 pm


Shami said:

Nour ,it’s not me the sectarian ,it’s Bashar who still believe that the guardians of his regime are the alawites militias ,alawite army and mukhabarat officers.Endemic and state protected Corruption is a necessity for such system.
Do you know more sectarian regime in the world than the mini alawite familly regime of the Asads ?
And plz tell us what do you know about Hama massacre ,for example give us the names of the districts of Hama completly destoyed and razed above their inhabitants almost all civilians.
Yes i dont see more vicious massacre in Syrian’s history since Timurlank.
If Bashar doesnt recognize these mistakes,the repercussions of these massacres will likely be sectarian reprisals against the alawite community in the post Asad era …we must avoid this scenario.

October 28th, 2009, 12:38 am


Nour said:


Your problem is that you see everything through a sectarian lens. You believe the Syrian regime is corrupt BECAUSE it is Alawite, as if there was no corruption in Syria before Assad and as if in countries with “sunni” rulers the corruption is any less rampant. You view Hama as a massacre of Sunnis by Alawites, and “Nusayris” no less, rather than an overly excessive response by an authoritarian regime to a group of radicals threatening its rule. No one on this blog will ever argue that Syria does not suffer from corruption, political repression, economic woes, etc., but to reduce all these problems to a sectarian issue is a highly divisive tendency that can only bring further disasters.

Shami, what is your view on the massacre of thousands of Christians by Syrian sunnis in Damascus in 1860? I of course do not put much stalk into this issue and am only using it as an example of how sectarianism can easily be used by any side to incite hatred.

October 28th, 2009, 1:07 am


norman said:

Apparently the supporters of Israel are very concerned about the relation between Syria Iran and Turkey,
Here is Danial pipe on the issue,

Turkey: An Ally No More
Written by Daniel Pipes
Tuesday, 27 October 2009 19:42

First published in The Jerusalem Post

“There is no doubt he is our friend,” Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, says of Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even as he accuses Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman of threatening to use nuclear weapons against Gaza. These outrageous assertions point to the profound change of orientation by Turkey’s government, for six decades the West’s closest Muslim ally, since Erdoğan’s AK party came to power in 2002.

Three events this past month reveal the extent of that change. The first came on October 11 with the news that the Turkish military – a long-time bastion of secularism and advocate of cooperation with Israel – abruptly asked Israeli forces not to participate in the annual “Anatolian Eagle” air force exercise.

Erdoğan cited “diplomatic sensitivities” for the cancelation and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu spoke of “sensitivity on Gaza, East Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque.” The Turks specifically rejected Israeli planes that may have attacked Hamas (an Islamist terrorist organization) during last winter’s Gaza Strip operation. While Damascus applauded the disinvitation, it prompted the U.S. and Italian governments to withdraw their forces from Anatolian Eagle, which in turn meant canceling the international exercise.

As for the Israelis, this “sudden and unexpected” shift shook to the core their military alignment with Turkey, in place since 1996. Former air force chief Eytan Ben-Eliyahu, for example, called the cancelation “a seriously worrying development.” Jerusalem immediately responded by reviewing Israel’s practice of supplying Turkey with advanced weapons, such as the recent $140 million sale to the Turkish Air Force of targeting pods. The idea also arose to stop helping the Turks defeat the Armenian genocide resolutions that regularly appear before the U.S. Congress.

Ministers of the Turkish and Syrian governments met at the border town of Öncüpınar and symbolically lifted a bar dividing their two countries on October 13.

Barry Rubin of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya not only argues that “The Israel-Turkey alliance is over” but concludes that Turkey’s armed forces no longer guard the secular republic and can no longer intervene when the government becomes too Islamist.

The second event took place two days later, on October 13, when Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem announced that Turkish and Syrian forces had just “carried out maneuvers near Ankara.” Moallem rightly called this an important development “because it refutes reports of poor relations between the military and political institutions in Turkey over strategic relations with Syria.” Translation: Turkey’s armed forces lost out to its politicians.

Thirdly, ten Turkish ministers, led by Davutoğlu, joined their Syrian counterparts on October 13 for talks under the auspices of the just-established “Turkey-Syria High Level Strategic Cooperation Council.” The ministers announced having signed almost 40 agreements to be implemented within 10 days; that “a more comprehensive, a bigger” joint land military exercise would be held than the first one in April; and that the two countries’ leaders would sign a strategic agreement in November.

The council’s concluding joint statement announced the formation of “a long-term strategic partnership” between the two sides “to bolster and expand their cooperation in a wide spectrum of issues of mutual benefit and interest and strengthen the cultural bonds and solidarity among their peoples.” The council’s spirit, Davutoğlu explained, “is common destiny, history and future; we will build the future together,” while Moallem called the get-together a “festival to celebrate” the two peoples.

Bilateral relations have indeed been dramatically reversed from a decade earlier, when Ankara came perilously close to war with Syria. But improved ties with Damascus are only one part of a much larger effort by Ankara to enhance relations with regional and Muslim states, a strategy enunciated by Davutoğlu in his influential 2000 book, Stratejik derinlik: Türkiye’nin uluslararası konumu (“Strategic Depth: Turkey’s International Position”).

In brief, Davutoğlu envisions reduced conflict with neighbors and Turkey emerging as a regional power, a sort-of modernized Ottoman Empire. Implicit in this strategy is a distancing of Turkey from the West in general and Israel in particular. Although not presented in Islamist terms, “strategic depth” closely fits the AK party’s Islamist world view.

As Barry Rubin notes, “the Turkish government is closer politically to Iran and Syria than to the United States and Israel.” Caroline Glick, a Jerusalem Post columnist, goes further: Ankara already “left the Western alliance and became a full member of the Iranian axis.” But official circles in the West seem nearly oblivious to this momentous change in Turkey’s allegiance or its implications.

The cost of their error will soon become evident.


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Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 October 2009 20:06

October 28th, 2009, 1:34 am


love you alex said:

QIFA NABKI, تخنتها شوي

October 28th, 2009, 1:39 am


norman said:

What do you think ,

Barak faces party revolt over peace deadlock (Reuters)

28 October 2009, JERUSALEM – Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak faced the possible breakup of his left-of-centre Labour party when a group of lawmakers threatened on Tuesday to break away protesting a lack of movement in peace talks.

Legislator Eitan Cabel of Labour said he was one of four of the party’s 13 legislators launching a movement to press Israel to renew stalled negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians.

Cabel told Reuters the group demanded “a lot more activism by Israel to advance the peace process” and could quit the party unless Barak heeded their message, a step that could weaken rightist Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

The threat introduced the risk that Netanyahu’s fractious seven-month-old coalition was vulnerable not only to pressures from ultranationalists against stopping Jewish settlement, but also to demands from moderates seeking more diplomacy.

Netanyahu commands the support of 71 of parliament’s 120 lawmakers, but his coalition comprises an uneasy alliance of unlikely partners as Barak’s Labour as well as far-right and religious factions.

Cabel, a veteran lawmaker removed months ago as party director after criticising the alliance with Netanyahu, accused Barak of “destroying the Labour party and now destroying the Left,” by failing to press further to renew peace talks.

Israeli negotiations with Palestinians stalled over a Gaza war in December, and efforts to revive them have so far failed despite the efforts of U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who was due back in the region for further talks this week.

Talks must resume
Cabel accused Barak of failing to ease Netanyahu’s resistance to freezing construction in Jewish settlements, which Palestinians see as a key obstacle to resuming peace talks.

“There must be a freeze,” Cabel said in a telephone interview, adding that Barak’s stance made him appear as though “he was planted by the Right as a virus.”

“Time isn’t on our side,” Cabel added, also urging a resumption of talks with Syria stalled since 2000 in a dispute over demands Israel withdraw from land captured in a 1967 War.

“There is quiet along the border with Syria but which could blow up at any moment without anyone’s express intent,” Cabel said.

He and three allies would launch their group called “The Democratic Platform,” in the coming days as a forum to generate new ideas, and try to force Barak either to wield more influence for peace or to step aside as party leader, Cabel said. Under Israeli law, they would need the support of at least five lawmakers, or a third of Labour’s slate, in order to secede and form a separate parliamentary faction.

The party’s faction leader, Daniel Ben-Simon, resigned that job last week but has not said whether he would join Cabel.

A Labour official close to Barak said the defence minister, a veteran military chief, had “done more for peace than anyone in the party, often risking his political career.”

A former prime minister who lost a snap election after a Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000 when peace talks failed, Barak insists he had a key role in Netanyahu’s conditional nod in June to establishing a Palestinian state next to Israel.

October 28th, 2009, 1:49 am


norman said:

This is what Syria is all about and what NG has failed to show

He is not my enemy: Jewish and Palestinian Syrians living in peace in Old Damascus
By Julian Weinberg
Created 10/04/2009 – 10:56

September 2009 Syrian Jews

Faisal and Musa are drinking tea, laughing, and reminiscing about old times in Musa’s antique shop in Old Damascus. Musa has just returned from America, where he now lives, and one of the first things he did after catching up with his relatives was to invite Faisal to his family’s house for dinner. That was last night, and the two of them are still giggling about their memories. Faisal is Palestinian, and Musa Jewish.

On the surface, this seems a striking incompatibility in the region, an effect of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This has never stopped these two Syrians from having a very close friendship. “Every day we have a story,” said Musa, “ you know, we used to go to the Sheraton Hotel to drink every night,” he continued, as Faisal, laughed on a drag of his cigarette, choking slightly.

Although most of Syria’s Jewish community has emigrated and the estimated number of Jews still living in Syria is between 25 and 200, they were not forced to leave after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. This led to the development of real friendships that both sides, Syrian and the emigrated Jewish community, recount with fondness and sorrow.


Legend has it that Jews have lived in Syria since the time of King David. The synagogues at Jobar and Duro Europos show 2000 years of Jewish history in the country. Reportedly during the Crusades, many Palestinian Jews immigrated to Syria to escape the massive taxes administered on them by the Crusaders, and when Jerusalem was taken the Jews were slaughtered along with the Muslims of the city. Under the rule of Nur ad-Din and Saladin, Syrian Jewish scholarship flourished.

Then in 1492, when the Jews were expelled from Spain, many came and settled in Syria. From 1919 until 1949, there was always a Jewish deputy in the Syrian parliament. Eventually, however, as Jews emigrated their numbers dwindled below the level that would have allocated them a representative in parliament.

Following the creation of the State of Israel, there were reports of attacks on Jewish synagogues from other sectors of Syrian society who were outraged at the events of 1947 and 1948. Subsequently, Syrian Jews experienced restrictions on their travel within and outside the country. That situation changed when Hafez al-Assad became President: Following a meeting in 1976 with the Syrian Jewish community, President Assad lifted the restrictions on travel within the country, and finally in 1992 the ban on traveling outside of the country was lifted too.

How it used to be

“Maybe some of the Muslims at that time were more Occidentalized than the Jews” said Radwan Atassi, a civil engineer and historian, recalling his childhood. A big proportion of the old Damascene society used to live in the new modern districts of the city, whereas the Jewish community, “lived in Arabic houses, sang Arabic songs and didn’t like the Occidental things,” Atassi continued.

Faisal had grown up in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Damascus after his family was forced to leave Safad near Tiberius in 1948. In fact, over twenty years ago, the population of the Jewish Quarter was around 50-50, Palestinian-Jewish. “He is not my enemy,” said Faisal about Musa and his other Jewish friends. “My enemy is he who lives in my home. Here, I live in his home, I am his visitor.”

“Humans, and especially the intellectual, cannot feel bad towards the Jews because they are Jewish,” said Radwan, “But Zionism, Israel has caused most of the problems in the area. The religion is very respected. We have all lived together without problems for millennia. There were no pogroms or ghettos here,” continued Radwan, alluding to the way many European countries has treated their own Jewish communities. “Religion is from God,” echoes Faisal. “Zionism, that is different.”

Jewish Homecomers
Musa’s family has lived in Damascus for so many generations that Musa has no idea when they first arrived. Musa immigrated to the US, in the late 1990s after pressures from his family to go. “Many of our relatives had left. My wife really wanted us to be with them,” he explains.

His brother Saleem stayed, however, and continued to run the family business, the antique shop, Dabdoub, another fascinating tale in the story of Syria’s history of assimilation and community relations: George Dabdoub was a Palestinian refugee from Bethlehem, who set up the business in 1948. His partner was one of Musa’s relatives.

Musa tries to come back to Syria for a month every year. Whenever he returns to New York and tells his Syrian-Jewish friends about the country and how it has changed, they all want to return. “It’s increasing. More people come back to visit each year,” said Musa. “We’re born here; you feel something.”

In his January 2009 interview with Forward Magazine, President Jimmy Carter recounted how, while as President, he had asked President Hafez al-Assad to help some Syrian Jewish men find wives. The men wanted to marry women of the same faith as them. President Hafez al-Assad sent a delegation of around 50 women with a matchmaker to the US. As I recounted this story to Musa, he smiled, “My aunt was one of them.”

Looking Forward

Negotiations between Syria and Israel have reportedly come close to a final agreement, but are currently stalled despite international encouragement, since the new Israeli government took power. However, there have been reports over the last few years that some from Syria’s US-based Jewish community would like to play a role one day in bringing the two nations together. “I’m looking forward to peace and when everyone comes together and lives in peace,” lamented Musa. “My mother stills says she will return home,” added Faisal.


Source URL:

October 28th, 2009, 2:06 am


Akbar Palace said:

Although most of Syria’s Jewish community has emigrated and the estimated number of Jews still living in Syria is between 25 and 200, they were not forced to leave after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.


Mr. Weinberg’s account sounds so nice: “they were not forced to leave”. Actually, they were forced to stay.

Many Jews fled from Syria to Palestine during the anti-Jewish riots of 1947. After that, the Syrian government clamped down and allowed no emigration, though some Jews left illicitly. In the last two decades some emigration has been allowed, mostly to America, though some have since left America for Israel, under the leadership of Rabbi Albert Hamra.

The bottom line is, the best thing Syria can do to improve her relationship with Jews is to make peace with Israel, recognize the state, and stop supporting terrorism.

October 28th, 2009, 11:30 am


Shami said:

Nour,go read more about these massacres in Aleppo, Mount lebanon and Damascus between 1840 and 1860 and who was behind it and how the criminals were punished after the events.
You will not find rats trying to justify these massacres that were in fact the result of a british french proxy war.The french used the maronites and the british ,the druzes and beduins.
For sure Nour ,the damascenes from the intra muros city did not take part to this war and the nobles among them Sheikh Abdelkader protected thousands of christian families.Those who did these massacres are some beduins who came from al midan and the desert and druzes ,who had ties with the british intelligence.
The important here ,we glorify sheikh Abdelkader al Jazaeri the great sheikh ,who saved thousands of syrian christian lives.
He is our hero and model.

October 28th, 2009, 1:26 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


I stick by my assessment: as far as these kinds of things go — i.e. articles in the “You-Thought-You-Knew-About-Country X-But-Think-Again” genre of magazine journalism — this was pretty good.

Compare this article to something similar about Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Yemen, etc. The authors virtually ALWAYS talk about unpleasant things like state oppression, crony capitalism, corruption, violence, etc. It’s a little bit hard to avoid.

As for the second article you quoted, that proves my point exactly! Read the first paragraph:

“DAMASCUS, Syria — The Syrian Ministry of Tourism invited journalists from Tehran to Tunis to check out its top attractions during a trip to the normally reclusive country. Fox News hopped a caravan and went along for the ride.”

Do you think it’s a coincidence that the journalist who wrote such a postive article about Syria was sponsored by the Syrian Ministry of Tourism, ya zalameh? 🙂

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the Syrian government inviting junkets of journalists to come and cover the country and write sweetheart pieces about Syria’s wonderful architecture, history, culture, etc. Hell, they should be doing it once a week. (March 14 does this on a regular basis, for Lebanon).

But let’s not pretend that the motivations are so innocent and objective. 😉

October 28th, 2009, 1:42 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Haven’t read it yet, but here’s an article out in this week’s Review section of The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, about Syria’s attempt to emerge out of isolation. It’s by Mohammed Bazzi.

Perusing it quickly, though, I can see it’s going to piss off Alex. He knows why.


October 28th, 2009, 1:53 pm


why-discuss said:


The article is interesting but subtly tries to prove that Bashar is so desperate to keep the alawite control of the country that he keeps “shifting alliances” and playing his friends and ennemies ‘against each others”. This is untrue, Syria has been the most consistent in its alliances than any other arab country, without becoming the puppet of anyone, contrary to Egypt, Jordan and KSA.
It is the only arab country that stood against Saddam Hossein, when the other arab countries supported him than’ shifted’ when they realize they were wrong. Syria is the only arab country that is standing with Iran now and we start to see a ‘shift’ with other arab countries, especially after sunni turkey made an open statement of support.
if the foreign policy of Syria is controlled by the alawites, so be it, it certainly appears much smarter than the foreign policies of sunni controlled arab countries cited above. I dread to imagine the mess Syria would have become if it has had similar foreign policies to these country.

October 28th, 2009, 3:04 pm


Qifa Nabki said:


I hear what you’re saying, but I think that what Bazzi meant by shifting alliances was not that the Alawites keep jumping from one bandwagon to another, but rather that they have tried to foster good relations with as many parties as posisble, in order to play these parties off each other when doing so would be profitable to them.

Hafez’s strategies during the Lebanese Civil War (and subsequently) are a good example of this habit of keeping many irons in the fire.

Bashar is doing something similar now, by trying to position Syria as the hub between Iran and the Arab world, Turkey and the Arab world, Hamas and Fatah, March 8 and March 14, etc.

October 28th, 2009, 3:12 pm


norman said:

Hi QN,

I think he doing a great job , Don’t you think?

October 28th, 2009, 4:17 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

Ammo Norman,

I agree that Bashar has played his hand well thus far. But there are many looming problems on the horizon. Syria’s domestic woes could end up scuttling whatever progress Bashar makes on the foreign affairs front. As Ehsani has pointed out many times in the past, something like a complete economic overhaul is needed.

October 28th, 2009, 4:37 pm


Nour said:


You’re not understanding my point. I know those who committed the massacres were driven by certain people with particular agendas, and I would never claim that they did so because they were “Muslim”. (It was by the way the Turkish rulers who incited people to attack the Christians as they sided with the Druze in the war in Mount Lebanon.) My point is to show you how easy it is to use incidents to incite sectarian hatred, which is exactly what you are doing. The events in Hama were a heavy-handed response by an authoritarian regime against a radical group that threatened its rule. They were not a massacre of “Sunnis” by “Alawis,” which is exactly how you want to portray it. This would be equivalent to saying that the Iraqi regime’s response to the Kurdish uprising was a massacre of Kurds by Sunnis. It is ridiculous, and would only be described as such by utterly sectarian people who have an interest in provoking sectarian hatred.

October 28th, 2009, 4:46 pm


norman said:

QN ,

He is moving as fast as the people are ready to move he has to change the mentality that he inherited after 40 years of Socialism , he does not want what happened in Russia ,to move economically he needs to find a way to prevent inequalities . and to establish a middle class

October 28th, 2009, 5:15 pm


jad said:

Hi Norman,
I agree with you that reestablish the middle class would be ideal for a sustainable economy future for Syria but all signs are not pointing that way.
The middle class in the typical definition left in Syria today doesn’t have any weight, the social justice is badly hurt and you have a very large section of the society can easily be classified as living under poverty line in the international standards.
The economy is under lots of pressures from any front you can imagine and I’m pessimist about the future in Syria in the mid/long term when I read the data out of there, and unless we scientifically evaluate Syria problems and deal with them head-on there would be no fast movement forward and all the promises we read about are nothing but some optimistic illusions.

October 28th, 2009, 5:46 pm


why-discuss said:


Bazzi wrote:

“Bashar Assad’s main goal today is to preserve the rule of his Alawite regime in a Sunni-dominated country. (The Alawites are a minority sect within Shiite Islam.) That may explain the regime’s history of tortured alliances and constant hedging.”

Come on, what is he talking about? I wish he could be courageous enough to praise Bashar on his achievement in foreign policy instead of accusing him and putting all his efforts in keeping the alawite rule on Syria. Is he annoyed that an ‘alawi’ regime is doing better than the ‘sunni’ neighbors in keeping its options open and the respect of the arab mass while the others have become puppets?
Then what is wrong in having a tolerant minority ruling a country that is, like most of arab countries an authoritarian regime? Christians are certainly better off in Syria under a Alawi regime than an Egypt or Saudi Arabia inspired sunni regime. When you see what is happening to the Coptes in Egypt and the religious restrictions in KSA and Algeria, I am more than grateful that Syria is ruled by Alawites who are neither prone to religious extremism nor intolerant to other other religions.

October 28th, 2009, 6:03 pm


Shami said:

Nour dont blind yourself ,do you mean that Hafez and his alawite militias did lack of hatred towards the hamwis ?Such things are known Nour ,the hatred is very deep towards the environment in these mountains.I’m speaking the truth as it is .

October 28th, 2009, 6:23 pm


Shami said:

WHY discuss ,that’s why the christians in Syria are becoming rare in districts in which they were populous some years ago ,i can give you many many examples in all parts of Syria and in every Syrian city.
It’s not because they drink alcohol and their women are not veiled that they should look ok for christians ,it’s an another kind of 3asabiya,many of those are even atheists .
The Syrian christians were in better situation prior to this regime ,this is for sure and by far.They controlled most of the private schools,large sectors of the economy ,gave important politicians elected democratically ,had an huge cultural and intellectual influence over all syrians.Today Syrian christianity has become an archeological item.What is the weight of syrian christianity in today Syria ?and how should we foresee their future ?a dying community ?this dangerous transition did happen under this alawite regime that like to show itself as protector of minorities in the middle east.

October 28th, 2009, 6:29 pm


Shami said:

WD,you should also think the repercussions of all these mistakes by Asad on Syria’s future .Slogans are not the reality.

October 28th, 2009, 6:37 pm


Alex said:

Ya Dektor QN,

Why are you ignoring the tens of highly positive articles that appeared in various magazines and travel sections of major newspapers and focusing only on the fact that Fox reporter was invited by the ministry of Tourism?

As for Mohammad Bazzi’s article in the National newspaper, I already know his opinion from what he said here:

I even linked it (last week) in the “suggested readings” section int he other website *that you did not visit for weeks now)

October 28th, 2009, 7:06 pm


Qifa Nabki said:

How do you know that I haven’t visited it for weeks? Are you spying on me?!

And you wonder why they write articles about the moukhabarat in Syria…


October 28th, 2009, 7:23 pm


Alex said:

That’s right Qifa : )

U.S. Wants to Move ‘Beyond Dialogue’ With Syria, U.S. Says
2009-10-28 19:03:26.184 GMT

By Janine Zacharia
Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. is ready to deepen ties
with Syria and work with the Middle Eastern nation to forge
peace with Israel, a top State Department diplomat said today.
“Syria and the United States share some common interests,
including a comprehensive peace in the region,” Jeffrey
Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern
Affairs, said in written testimony. Syria “can potentially play
a constructive role.”
Testifying before a House Foreign Affairs Middle East
subcommittee, Feltman conditioned the expansion of the
relationship somewhat, saying Syria must halt the flow of
terrorists across its border from Iraq and stop supporting
terrorist groups.
Feltman, whose several visits to Syria this year helped end
a chill in relations that endured during much of former
President George W. Bush’s administration, said it is time to
“move beyond dialogue and toward action in areas of cooperation
and concern that we have identified.”
One U.S. goal is to prevent weapons sent by Iran from moving
through Syria to the Lebanese-based Shiite militia group,
Hezbollah, which waged a monthlong war with Israel in 2006.
Feltman appealed to countries in the region “to help stop
the flow of materiel and other support to terrorist groups.”
The U.S. has off and on for decades tried to forge peace
deals between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and
Syria. A peace push by President Bill Clinton on both fronts
failed in 2000.

Mideast Peace

Feltman said a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict remains a central goal of the Obama administration.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told President Barack
Obama on Oct. 22 that it’s premature to restart peace
negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Repeated meetings among Israeli, Palestinian, other Arab
officials and Obama’s special envoy, former Senator George
Mitchell, haven’t cleared several obstacles to resuming talks on
fundamental issues: the future of Jerusalem, the fate of
Palestinian refugees and the borders of a future Palestinian
In the absence of progress, a growing number of
Palestinians have lost faith in Obama’s peacemaking ability and
in U.S. policies in the Middle East, a survey released Oct. 18
Slightly less than 24 percent of those questioned said
Obama could boost the chances of peace, down from 35.4 percent
who said in June they were optimistic about his participation in
the Middle East process, according to a survey by the Jerusalem
Media & Communications Center.
Clinton will discuss the peace process during meetings with
Arab foreign ministers in Morocco Nov. 2 and 3.

October 28th, 2009, 7:44 pm


Nour said:


With respect to Assad, no I don’t believe for one minute that his response in Hama was due to some deep-seeded hatred against Sunnis. And even if it were, then we could criticize Assad merely for being sectarian, and not for being Alawi. Bashir Gemayel, for example, was a brutal, bloody, sectarian warlord, but his criticism should for those attributes and not for the fact that he is Maronite.

As for Christians in Syria, it is absolutely not true that their situation is worse in Syria because of Assad. This is propaganda concocted by Islamists in order to somehow convince Christians that they are better off under and Islamic regime. Christians are doing fine as far as their status in Syrian society is concerned. Has there been emigration from Syria of many Christians? Sure, but this is a trend that is true for the rest of the Middle East also, and is a result of a multiplicity of factors. But it would be difficult to convince anyone that Christians in Syria are not better off than say Christians in Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

In any case, we really should not look at what is good for the Christians, or the Sunnis, or the Alawis, or the Druze, etc. when we look to fix Syria’s problems and work for a better future. Our only concern should be what is good for SYRIA as a whole, with all members of its society seen as equal citizens in a single nation, and not minority and majority groups competing for power and influence.

October 28th, 2009, 8:15 pm


Shami said:

Nour,we will see in the future what will be the consequences of all these dangerous mistakes done by Asad regime on Syria’s future.When you say Sunnis ,it’s not like druze ,alawite,shia,yazidis and other minorities ,it’s an ocean from Morroco to China.I repeat ,if Bashar doesnt make the democratical transition himself ,reprisal attacks are likely against the alawite community which is isolated.We must avoid such scenario to happen.
BTW ,Nour ,Asads and Makhloufs are SSNPers like you are ,i understand your stance.

October 28th, 2009, 8:37 pm


Nour said:


It is amazing how every sentence you write is splattered with sectarianism. You come just short of calling for reprisal attacks against Alawis and then claim that we must avoid such a scenario.

It is again clear that you only view society in terms of religious and sectarian affiliation, and thus you are a classic proponent of sectarianism. If there was a corrupt regime in Syria that happened to be “Sunni” you would have less of a problem with it, because after all the rulers would be from those grand co-religionists that stretch “from Morocco to China.” Your concern is clearly not the well- being of your country, but rather the concentration of power in the hands of the “Sunnis” because in your view members of the majority sect should rightfully rule members of minority sects and the idea of the single society is completely over your head.

October 28th, 2009, 9:02 pm


jad said:

The falling numbers of all NON-SUNNI in Syria are not because of the Alawites it is because of Sunnis like you who support radicalism, who keep the flame of hatred above any human values, who keep calling for revenge, and who wants all of them to become Sunnis and it is not because of the corrupted system of Syria, in fact the corruptions Sunnis in numbers are higher than any other religion or sect in Syria (they made 75%) so why don’t you stop writing about the same hatred ideology you inherited, instead, take the challenge I gave you couple month ago by writing not about God, not about Allah, not about the bad Alawites and how much you hate them, or the extremely ‘smart’ and ‘special’ Christians that you fake your ‘love’, the ‘Great’ Sunnis that you represent or the already extinct Syrian Jews you pretend that you want them to come back or the Buddhist for that matters and start writing smart ideas, meaningful critiques, productive discussions, something to build trust instead of hearted, something has a meaning for all and something that improve the lives of any human regardless of his religion, write something that makes others feel smart after reading your posts instead of feeling sorry for you and despise what you write.

BTW, Kareem, Bin Laden and Al Zawahri are Al Qaeda like you are, I, understand your stance but I hate it.

October 28th, 2009, 9:48 pm


Shami said:

jad ,lol ,is Syria under the Asads an Islamic state ?Yes it’s possible ,never in history ,Syria had been so islamized ,but it’s not my fault ,it’s Asad who is playing this dangerous game ,killing here ,building mosques there ,building qaida like group and export them to iraq and lebanon ,abu al qaaqa and others….We should leave the people to evolve in a spontaneous manner under the rule of democracy ,they will not choose extremism,the syrian is by nature a liberal merchant ,radicalization and extremism is an answer to this sectarian dictatorship,they have no other way to say their opposition to the system only through religious bigotery. under the Asads ,Syria has become more Islamized than ever.And i dont think that the christians are leaving wadi al nassara from islamic pressure,there is few muslims there …these nice villages are becoming empty and the schools are closing by lack of children.

October 29th, 2009, 12:11 am


Sasa said:

Actually Alex and Qifa, it wasn’t just Fox News who were invited by the Ministry of Tourism. Every year they run the SIlk Road Festival, which is an excellent press trip for (lazy?) journalists. This year The Guardian sent their Middle East editor Ian Black:

October 29th, 2009, 12:30 am


Sasa said:

Alex and Qifa,

Going back to the NG article, I can see the truth in both of your arguments. I think the Bab Touma tale completely undermines the journalist’s credibility. I is so close to the top of the article, and was the thing I was most angry about when I first linked to the story:

But, as I said there, dig through the dross at the top (along with the ugly title and the Mafia cliche) and you get an original take on Syria.

I disagree that it’s all bad. The end of the article is clever and challenging. What it says to me is this: Americans come to Syria expecting to find Mukhabaraat behind the trees, but what they actually come across is a country full of young people who just want a job. Not far from the truth, is it?

There are extensive quotes from Bashar and Dardari, who show an incredible amount of candure, and will challenge Americans who think that Syria’s leadership aren’t addressing the country’s problems. It talks about Syria’s economic reforms, attempts at tackling corruption. And so, yes, I saw this as a generally positive article – although it did give a nod to the usual American stereotypes.

Would a ‘Syria-Is-Evil’ article include a quote like this:

In his push to modernize, Bashar’s most potent ally is his wife, the former Asma al-Akhras, a stylish, Western-educated business executive who has launched a number of government-sponsored programs for literacy and economic empowerment. Daughter of a prominent Syrian heart specialist, Asma was born and raised in London. She and Bashar have three children, whom they’re fond of taking on picnics and bicycle rides in the hills around the capital—a marked contrast to Hafez al Assad, who was rarely seen in public. “You only know what people need if you come in contact with them,” Bashar said. “We refuse to live inside a bubble. I think that’s why people trust us.”

October 29th, 2009, 12:40 am


why-discuss said:

Shami, you should call yourself The Cassandra of Doom.

You have predicted many times that Bashar and the ‘heretics’ minorities are doomed, and what we see is the great king of the sunnis looking up to Bashar as most arabs praise Bashar for his arab nationalism and his wisdom in protecting his country when all the wolfs, arabs and western, were trying to create chaos. He came out safe and healthy from the dangerous neighborhood of Iraq and Israel and the neo-cons plots. I can’t say the same for the sunni arab countries becoming less and less relevant in the grand game being played in the middle East now.
Please refrain from making predictions, threats and hasty judgements.

October 29th, 2009, 12:48 am


Shami said:

WD ,Bashar is today here,tommorow there will be no more asadian perverted baath no more alawite regime and they will be cursed in the streets ,the statues of Hafez under the shoes.No more kitch boards ,with slogans like menhebak…and other cheap things of this kind ,all will go in the trash of history.
WD,for me ,Bashar alawite regime is a zionist necessity because he makes Syria poorer,more corrupt ,more humiliated and protect its northern borders .
If you believe that Bashar and Baath as sole ruler of the society are eternal it’s your problem.
WD ,the people are eternal not the regimes.
WD,seriously ,who can free palestine other than the Sunnis ?
It’s a fact not a sectarian remark.

October 29th, 2009, 1:10 am


why-discuss said:


Since you pursue your impartial predictions , please tell us what you see in your crystal bowl after Bashar is gone: What will happen to the Kingdom of Jordan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the ‘Kingdom’ of Egypt? How long we will have to wait so they free Palestine. It’s been 60 years now and these great Sunni countries have only brought more misery to the Palestinians.
That is not a sectarian remark either.

October 29th, 2009, 3:26 am


why-discuss said:

Jamil Sayyed has asked the Syrian justice to prosecute the false witnesses in the Hariri investigation that lead Sayyed and three generals in prison for 4 years in Lebanon.

Sayyed saisit la justice syrienne pour poursuivre de « faux témoins »


Le général Jamil Sayyed semble déterminé à aller jusqu’au bout. C’est ce qui ressort de la conférence de presse organisée par l’ancien directeur de la Sûreté générale qui a annoncé hier avoir saisi la justice syrienne pour poursuivre « les faux témoins syriens et toute autre personne, y compris libanaise », qui aurait été à l’origine de son emprisonnement injustifié, et de celui de trois autres hauts gradés de l’État, dans le cadre de l’investigation sur l’assassinat de Rafic Hariri. Entouré des avocats syriens chargés de la poursuite judiciaire à Damas, M. Sayyed a reproduit le fil des événements fondés sur les faux témoignages qui ont abouti à sa détention, quatre années durant, pour être ensuite rejetés par le tribunal international (TSL).
Passant en revue les multiples « dénis » auxquels il s’est heurté en demandant réparation à la justice libanaise d’une part, et au TSL, d’autre part, qui s’est dit « incompétent, pour le moment » en la matière, M. Sayyed a expliqué comment et pourquoi il s’est finalement adressé à la justice syrienne.

Déposée il y a quelques jours seulement devant le premier avocat général de Damas qui a transféré le dossier au juge d’instruction concerné, la plainte de M. Sayyed a été immédiatement suivie d’une demande syrienne d’extradition de Zouheir Siddik auprès des autorités des Émirats arabes unis, où il était détenu jusqu’à récemment. L’officier, qui a lancé un appel aux EAU les invitant à obtempérer à la demande d’extradition, « dans leur intérêt d’abord puisque Zouheir Siddik peut être tué à n’importe quel moment sur leur territoire », a affirmé qu’il refusait de croire les rumeurs de presse selon lesquelles l’Arabie saoudite aurait exercé des pressions sur les émirats dans le cadre de cette affaire.
Outre Zouheir Siddik, la plainte est engagée notamment contre Houssam Houssam, Abdel Halim Khaddam (pour ses accusations télévisées), Abdel Basset Bani Audeh, Ibrahim Michel Jarjoura, Akram Chakib Mrad, Ahmad Merhi, et « plusieurs dizaines d’autres dont les témoignages ont été pris en compte dans le cadre de l’investigation internationale dirigée à l’époque par Detlev Mehlis », a précisé l’officier. Le général Sayyed cite au passage le procureur général Saïd Mirza, les juges d’instruction Élias Eid et Sakr Sakr, l’ancien ministre de la Justice Charles Rizk, et plusieurs responsables des FSI, dont le colonel Wissam el-Hassan, et le capitaine Samir Schéhadé.
M. Sayyed et les avocats présents ont justifié la compétence des tribunaux syriens par le fait qu’il s’agit au départ « de cinq faux témoins de nationalité syrienne ». Et les intervenants de citer l’article 20 du code de procédure pénale syrien prévoyant que « la loi syrienne s’applique sur tout citoyen syrien, qu’il soit exécutant, commanditaire, ou complice, ayant commis un crime ou un délit condamnable par la loi syrienne ».
Et M. Sayyed de conclure en rappelant que partout dans le monde, n’importe quel faux témoin, une fois découvert, « est jugé exactement comme s’il était complice dans le crime, surtout lorsqu’il a sciemment tenté d’induire en erreur les investigateurs en présentant des informations et des faits falsifiés qui peuvent aboutir à innocenter le vrai criminel ».

October 29th, 2009, 3:50 am


Shami said:

Democratization first the people should be master of his own destiny

October 29th, 2009, 2:24 pm


Alex said:

Hind Kabawat got an award last week at George Mason University

October 29th, 2009, 6:25 pm


Alex said:


I already agreed that the reporter is not a Neocon like Imad suggested, precisely because he wrote positively about President Assad… so he was not systematically criticizing everything.

But again, while he was busy promoting reforms and human rights, he reflected a mostly dark gray image of Syria .. a very bleak picture. Those reading the NG will not be motivated at all to visit Syria … that’s the bottom line for me.

Again, compare to this third installment of Syria coverage from Fox News:

American Doctors and Dentists Serve Syrians

Wednesday, October 28, 2009
By Amy Kellogg

DAMASCUS, Syria — The Syrian Ministry of Tourism invited journalists from Tehran to Tunis to check out its top attractions during a trip to the normally reclusive country. Fox News hopped a caravan and went along for the ride.

We had just huffed and puffed our way up the ramparts of Syria’s most important Crusader castle, and once impregnable fortress, Krak des Chevaliers. Its smooth surfaces were intended to make it impossible for intruders to scale the walls. Holes were bored into the fortress for the purpose of pouring hot oil onto the heads of anyone who might dare try to penetrate the castle, which dates back to the 11th century. It belonged to the Emir of Homs before the Crusaders took it over and expanded it. Its scale and heft are breathtaking. Our heads were swimming with visions of medieval battles and Knights Hospitallers, when, suddenly, we were brought back to the here and now as we heard a booming, cheerful voice — with an American accent.

SLIDESHOW: Americans in Syria.

Turns out, the voice was from Buffalo, New York and belonged to Dr. Robert Stall.

“I am here on the invitation of my friend Dr. Othman Shibly. I am a physician, a geriatrician, specializing in older people. I hope to bring geriatrics to Syria,” Stall told Fox News.

Stall said geriatrics, as a specialty, is not as prevalent as he would like it to be in the United States, and doesn’t exist as a field in Syria. He’s lobbying for more specialized care for older people, wherever they live.
When we met Stall, he was getting in a bit of sightseeing, but he had come to Syria to attend a conference in Damascus on dentistry. He took advantage of the venue of that conference to spread his medical gospel, and also took several opportunities to visit elderly people in Syria to give his opinion as to how they could improve the quality of their life.

The way he ended up in Syria is one of those stories that sprang from the ashes of the terrorist attacks of September 11th. An interfaith group formed in Buffalo in the aftermath of the attacks, to help promote understanding between religions. Stall happens to be Jewish. But he wasn’t initially involved in this interfaith organization. That came a bit later.

Both the Jews and the Muslims in the group took some heat from their respective communities for this outreach which came at a raw time.

But they soldiered on, the Jewish community represented by Cantor Susan Wehle, until another tragedy cut her, and more innocents down. This one was an accident.

It was the crash of the Continental flight 3407 in Buffalo last February. Wehle, along with 49 others, was killed.

Stall moved in to continue Wehle’s work, and in so doing met Dr. Othman Shibly, a Syrian Muslim, working as a periodontist in Buffalo with his wife, Dr. Sawsan Tabbaa, an orthodontist.

Out of the friendship came this trip to Syria. Stall says it has been a great thing.

“I hope to bring others back—religious people as well as lay people to see what a wonderful place this is. And by meeting people face to face, you learn that other people are not to be feared. It’s just a small minority that ruins it for everyone else.”

Stall’s interest in other faiths and backgrounds seems now to have morphed into something more tangible and concrete. Improving the quality of peoples’ lives, wherever they live.

“I believe the way you bring people together is through apolitical, areligious means. You work together to combat ‘the other.’ The not being people of other beliefs. The ‘other’ being poverty, injustice prejudice, things like that,” he told Fox News.

Dr. Shibly points out that medical professionals in the United States have an obligation to people in the rest of the world.

“Since America has the best education in dentistry it has a moral responsibility to promote oral health by training dentists who can go back to their countries.”

Shibly is involved in a program that does just that at the University of Buffalo, helping to get foreign students placed for training.

At the dental conference in Damascus, he shared the latest recommendations from the American Dental Association and American Heart Association about links between gum and heart disease. He discussed having dentists recommend to patients with gum disease having their doctors check them for signs of heart disease. They discussed plenty of other subjects related to the latest research in America.

Shibly’s Syrian-born wife Sawsan Tabbaa, together with some other fellow Muslim Americans living in the United States, sued the Department of Homeland Security in 2005, claiming she and the others were the victims of profiling after being detained several hours at the Canadian border, fingerprinted and interrogated on their way back from an Islamic conference in Toronto, before being released.

The New York Civil Liberties Union said they were “victims once again of our government’s overzealous and counterproductive ethnic and religious profiling in the name of national security.” The courts ruled that the government was acting in its authority to control entry at the border and that the basic rights of the group were not violated.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tabbaa believes Americans have misconceptions about Syrian people.

“The Syrian people would welcome with open arms efforts to build bridges between them and other countries in the world.”

Along for the ride with Stall, Shibly and Tabbaa, was Karen Roncone, a Buffalo dental hygenist, who was contributing tips for preventative oral care at the conference.

“One of the things I am noticing, as a woman, as a Christian, coming to a Muslim community, I wasn’t sure how I would be accepted. It has been incredibly gracious. They have had me in their homes. I have been in mosques where I have been welcomed. Muslim women have put their arms around and pulled me closer to everything going on so that I could possibly understand it better.”

Dr. Shibly said, “We feel we all, Muslims and Jews, are part of the same world because our race and religion share the burden of world suffering,” said Dr. Shibly. “Our parents and grandparents gave us a beautiful world but it is full of conflict. We need to give our children and grandchildren a better world, a world of peace and universal social justice. That can only be accomplished when we join our hands in cooperation.”

Even with the imposing crusader castle, a symbol of inter-religious warfare, as the backdrop to our conversation, we managed to forget for a moment that the conflicts and clashes of cultures which pre-date our grandparents by a long shot, have deep roots.

But, on the other hand, you could say that the crusader castle, with its elaborate systems for keeping “the other” at bay, and doing battle with people of other faiths, is a potent example of how not to live.

This is the third in a series of reports by Fox News Correspondent Amy Kellogg, who recently returned from a 10-day trip to Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government. This report covers Kellogg’s experience with American doctors and dentists in Syria. Tomorrow Kellogg will explore the long Christian heritage in Syria.

October 29th, 2009, 7:26 pm



the articale is rational, reasonable, and accurate . my support to NG, and to the free press and speach which do not exist in syria. God bless you.

October 29th, 2009, 10:57 pm


Off the Wall said:

To Shami

When you want to hate a Christian,
just because he is a non
Le me know,
for I am one

when you want to hate an Alawite, A Jew, a Shia, or any one
just because he is a non
let me know,
for i am one

But when you learn to love us all,
I will love you
and I will be you
for I am all
and I am one

October 30th, 2009, 3:49 pm


Shami said:

OTW,Thanks but it’s not because we hate Asads and Makhloufs and their regime that we hate the Nusayri community as whole.

Interesting interviews with Syrian intellectuals.

October 30th, 2009, 5:39 pm


why-discuss said:


Thanks for pointing us to these interesting interviews about the status of the culture in Syria.
Unfortunately NO arab governement give any importance to culture. They ignore the fact that culture contributes in preserving and enhancing a national identity. Yet developing culture needs money, vision and support.
Paradoxally, ne vous en deplaise, the only country in the area that has many strong government institutions supporting and promoting culture is … Iran.

October 31st, 2009, 3:52 am


Shami said:

WD ,what is the opinion of the iranian intellegensia on this matter ?
Or should the sophisticated iranians be satisfied by the culture promoted by those ?

WD ,without freedom ,no good culture and its happy developpment depend on it.
WD ,never try to make nice a well known dirty regime.

November 2nd, 2009, 3:05 am


jad said:

رجاءً اللا تستخدم صفحات سيرياكومنتس لربط أي شيء ديني يكون مستفزاً لأي طائفة كانت، لأنك دون أن تدري تكون قد وضعت طائفتك في موقف الضعيف و هدف سهل لشخص ما ليرد عليك بذات الاسلوب ولا أحد منا يريد ذلك.
بصراحة أنا لم أجد أي شخص من الطائفة/الطوائف التي تتهجم عليها دائماً استخدم اسلوبك حتى الآن.
هناك مواقع كثيرة تشجع هذا الاسلوب المبتذل من الاهانات ولكن هذا الموقع ليس واحداً منها.
اللهم إشهد أني قد بلغت.

November 2nd, 2009, 4:38 am


Shami said:

I didnt see rafida here on Syria comment or Syrians rafidites in Syria other than those brought by Hafez Asad into Syria from Iran or Iraqis of Iranian origin,so i’m not attacking my own people.Add it on the list of Asad’s regime crimes.
I would not attack christians as christians,jews as jews or shias as shias…my target are the insulters of prophet’s honor and only them.This is a normal reaction from a moderate man.

November 2nd, 2009, 1:37 pm


jad said:

If you are saying with your usual 100% confidence that you don’t see any ‘Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian’ Rafidi/Atheist/Nusayre or any Sunni attacker from any nationality on SC as you wrote. Why you are bothering all of us with your religiously vulgar comments almost always and make your fellow Sunnis vulnerable to any possible counter attack that will defiantly hurt their feeling.
Do your sect a favor and stop attacking any other sect or believe that doesn’t fit your ‘SUNNA’, it makes you look and sound ignorant and weak.

November 2nd, 2009, 3:21 pm


Shami said:

Jad ,it’s not me who brought this iranian pig Al Shirazi or Abdulhamid al Muhajir to Syria who insult with the vilest words the wife of the prophet and his companions but it’s Hafez Asad.
Be sure that there will be some consequences that you can guess ,syrians are proud people.Imagine that they bring Zakaria Butros…in order to make the group complete.

I fear for you and the nusayri community more than i fear for me.Nothing can be changed for us Syrian muslims,you are dying as christian community and it happened under our eyes ,powerless to resist it,and i’m very sad for it.I’m proud of my christian heritage ,it’s part of myself.
Jad,it’s Asad choice,not mine ,not yours ,it’s a reality we can not ignore it.
The first thing that i will do if i become president of Syria ,is to ensure the return of the maximum of christians and jews into Syria .Syria is a very miserable country without them.

November 2nd, 2009, 5:15 pm


qunfuz said:

O Shami, you are ridiculous. You are mutakhalaf. Please go and bury your sectarian head somewhere we can’t see it.

November 2nd, 2009, 5:40 pm


qunfuz said:
Here was my response to Galal Nassar of al-Ahram Weekly. It does for Shami as well. It astounds me when people criticise the Syrian regime for failing to liberate Palestine BECAUSE it has Alawis on top, and then claiming that ‘Sunnis’ will liberate Palestine. So that’ll be the ‘Sunni’ dictatorships in KSA, Egypt and Jordan, will it? And Hizbullah is a Safawi-rafidi-Zionist tool rather than the only force that has ever defeated Israel. And pigs fly. What fools. When will we move beyond this?

November 2nd, 2009, 5:46 pm


jad said:

Why you are calling them pigs???
They think differently then you are and they have all the rights to believe, say and write in whatever they want as long as it is not violent.
You are living in a western society where your neighbor might be an atheist or even a bigot cursing GOD/Allah days and night not only the prophets, do you dare to call him a pig without him calling the police on you and through you in jail?
If you have these scary radical ideas why do live with all those infidels around you?
It’s not your business to fix people’s way of thinking; you can challenge them by your strong argument if you have any and not by your sword or your radical way of thinking.
You can’t dismiss or get rid of every body that is different than you are because they don’t agree with something sacred to you.
All those ideas you are scared of are necessary to make you think and ask questions you don’t dare to ask, beside, if you have a strong believe in your faith you wouldn’t bother trying to defend it.
Not all of the world are Sunnis or even want to be one and you must understand this fact and to know who you are, who you represent and how people think of you.
All what you write is actually proving the westerners point that Muslims are violent and they don’t know how to talk to each other and they can’t live with any other faith or believes next to them without asking the illumination of that faith.
Can’t you see the harm you are doing to your own sect by what you write on here?
If I were a Sunni, I’ll be very offended by every line you write because you are taking over my right as a Sunni of saying what I want and you’ve been loud about your hatred that I don’t want anybody like you to talk for me or to defend anything sacred I believe in, you are doing a terrible job.
You have to stop or at least go to any radical Sunni site and attack others there until you let all that out then come back to SC.
It’s getting sickening reading your sectarian language over and over..

November 2nd, 2009, 6:09 pm


Shami said:

Qunfuz ,nobody is neutral ,neither you nor Jad.
Jad ,Islam accepted different schools of thoughts ,but here we have insulters and haters.Can the people co exist with imported people who curse their most loved men and women?It’s not the case of non rafidi shias,christians and jews ,we lived together for centuries ,churches ,synagogues and mosques meeting each others in the same quarter and the same street.
These rafida are imported by Asads what should be the logical outcome regarding these ayatollahs that not only insult day and night the honor of the prophet ,but also curse the Syrians as people.
Qunfuz ,almost all the Arab rulers are bad, here ,i agree with you.
But are they eternals?
All cultures and civilizations have up and down.It’s a logic of history.Today our Islamic civilization is down,we are waiting its renaissance with our very huge potential.

November 2nd, 2009, 7:17 pm


Shami said:

Jad,i’m against that Sunnis or any other people think as one man ,pluralism is the best way to improve towards the truth.
So be other ,show me your opposite views to mine and i would still consider you as a brother despite our different views.
But with those who use insults and taqiya,how could we build ties based on trust?It’s not possible ,be logical.

November 2nd, 2009, 7:34 pm


offended said:

Shami would have been very funny if he wasn’t serious.

November 2nd, 2009, 8:18 pm


jad said:

I agree 🙂

The following articles for you to enjoy:
نساء بلا بناطيل من السودان حتى اندونيسيا..
المحامي ميشال شماس – كلنا شركاء
31/ 10/ 2
عبدالله المطيري
مسجد… بمنحة كنسية

November 2nd, 2009, 9:13 pm



I don’t know who are those people you are naming that have been imported and have insulted our dearest and cheriched ancestors. Obviously they are a tiny minority and very sick for that matter, if what you said was true.
My advice is like Jad and Qunfuz said, get off that line of thought, we have serious and important problems to tackle in Syria and we can only do it by focusing on those areas and involve every Syrian in the solution including sunnis, shia (arfad), nusayris (aalawis), ismaeelis, druze, christians and all others.
Whether you like it or not, these many sects represent all Syrians who have the same rights and same privileges and same responsibilities regardless of their sect, and your attacking the nusayris (aalawis) does not bode well with the subjects at hand.

November 2nd, 2009, 9:48 pm


Shami said:

Offended ,it’s you who refuse to recognize the things as they are by fear to be labeled “sectarian” here are some other facts : Abdelhamid Al Muhajir had one hour per week on the Syrian TV during Hafez time.Go see on youtube who is this ignorant rafidi.
Other truth ,Hafez Asad did destroy large parts of the best district in Damascus ,several medieval buildings were lost for ever in order to build on its place an iranian regime propaganda building in which are attacked the companions and the wives of the prophet…Offendend the outcome of such policy ,in my honest opinion ,and it’s logical is a Radicalization towards Jihadi Salafism,we are not in need of both in Syria .
Syria that has only a tiny Imami ithna 3ashari community has the largest hawza in the world after Najaf and Qom.
People from all the world are gathered in Damascus to learn how to attack the mainstream Islam.

Montagnard who is for you the non sectarian ?
Bashar? Hafez ?Jamil? Nasrallah ? Khamainei ? Or you Qunfuz who love so much the palestinians , what was the reason behind the killing of Palestinians in the 80’s in Lebanon and in today Iraq?
It’s good that you spoke about Sabra and Shatila ,which was the work of Abu Ali Hobeika ,but what about the other even more important massacres during the next years that followed Sabra and Shatila ?

And it’s me the sectarian?

Btw ,the Nusayris in Turkey ,still call themselves as Nusayris and they did not hide their origins …
Hafez presented himself as a Sunni revert, as is Bashar today.

Is that pejorative ?

November 2nd, 2009, 11:02 pm



I don’t know who is sectarian and who is not. The people you named are not engaged in a discussion on this forum, they are neither able to tell us what they stand for, nor defend their positions. You on the other hand have missed my point. You are wasting too valueable of a time and effort attacking the nusayris and arfad, when we could be discussing amongs us, we Syrians that is, how to improve and help Syria in its quest for better future.

November 2nd, 2009, 11:35 pm


qunfuz said:

Jad – You are quite right. I am Sunni, and I am very offended and embarrassed by Shami’s rantings. After the tragedy in Iraq, we should all know better. Of course, certain Shia people should practice Islamic adab and not insult the Prophet’s companions, even if they believe certain companions did wrong, because this causes fitna. Equally, certain Sunnis should stop being so sensitive. The companions were human beings, not divine figures. Some Sunnis seem ready to fight even over the reputation of Salahadeen al Ayyubi or Haroun ar-Rasheed. These were historical figures, people who are now dead. None of us were there at the time to see these people. How absurd that we fight over this kind of thing while some people manage to live in the 21st century.

But really, Shami, stop it. Your sectarianism is no better than racism. It is ignorant and stupid. It doesn’t help us understand the predicament we are in and it doesn’t help us achieve more freedom. Do you really think that the Assads care about religion one way or another? If the president has a lot of Alawis around him, that’s because he trusts people from his village and tribe more than he trusts others. That’s all.

Iran, for all its failings, is a more developed and more free country than any Arab country. Hizbullah is a great organisation. Suspicion of them just because they are Shia is idiotic. Plus, the Shia have kept up ijtihad when the Sunnis have failed to.

November 2nd, 2009, 11:42 pm


Shami said:

Qunfuz ,you keep repeating the propaganda version of the regime ,which is doomed to end in the trash of history as other regimes of its kind.Speak facts and avoid to swallow their propaganda ….for example here is a fact ,from 1980 to 2008 in Iran ,there were more than 100 cases of stoned women to death ,more than 30 during the years of the moderate Khatami ,in Saudi Arabia during the same period (1980 to 2008)there were reported only 2 cases of stoning to death among them one princess.
So plz Qunfuz ,dont be deluded by these propaganda regimes.
As for the Sunni theology ,we dont have clerics with their blind followers which is my opinion the summit of ignorance , in Sunni islam which is close to reformed church christianity ,the level of ishtihad depend on the general level of the community and i also recognize the lack of good islamlic scholars in our time .
We also criticize the Sahaba and the Caliphs Abu Bakr ,Omar,Osman and Ali …it’s them who say that the 12 Imams are infaiilible and that they control the universe,they knew in advance the time of their death ,and that God obey them ,that anyone who doesnt believe in the infaillible imamah is non believer these points are very important points of their Aqida,they can not hide it …check it by yourself.
Salahadin was tolerant toward the Shias btw ,the only known mass sectarian massacre of Muslims happened in Iran during the Alavi Kizilbash rule of the Sefevids that transformed in Iran from a Sunni majority country to a rafidi country .
It’s not a problem of criticism Qunfuz,i too criticize the Caliphs ,but here tabara is integrated in their beliefs.(vilification)
We read in Iranica :

The Safavid interpretation of tabarrā as sabb (vilification) or laʿn (cursing) appears to have been an innovation, derived—like much else in early Safavid religion—from the traditions of ḡolāt (extremist) Shiʿism rather than those of Twelver Shiʿite belief. Certainly the emphasis placed on it was new. Shaikh ʿAlī Karakī found it necessary, in 917/1511, to write a treatise demonstrating the obligatory nature of cursing (Ḵatūnābādī, p. 448). A century and a half later, Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesī devoted substantial por­tions of his books in Persian to the vilification of the first three caliphs, including a vast amount of fantastic and defamatory material not found in earlier Shiʿite sources (see, e.g., pp. 154-219).

The ritual cursing of the first three caliphs was a lasting irritant in the relations of Persia with its Sunnite neighbors,

November 3rd, 2009, 12:12 am


jad said:

I for one got annoyed by all this pure sectarian talks and I just want to copy couple stories for you to read and learn that without being tolerance as Syrians toward each other regardless of our religion differences we wont move forward so you need to move on and stop this ranting it’s not healthy at all.
History is to learn from not to live in, just look around you on SC, nobody is even interested in knowing anything about what differentiate us but the opposite most of us here are hungry to read about what make us one and what is the best for all of us,
Please stop.

يوم أنطاكية ، فقد أتى على ذكره الأستاذ زكي الأرسوزي، وكان في كانون الثاني 1937، عندما جاء فريق من أعضاء لجنة المراقبة الدولية إلى أنطاكية ليحققوا في دعوى الأتراك في سلخ لواء اسكندرون عن سورية وضمه إلى تركيا. فأغلق الأتراك المساجد يوم الجمعة في وجوه المسلمين من العرب السوريين ليمنعوهم من الصلاة والتظاهر أمام اللجنة الدولية تأكيداً لعروبة أهل لواء اسكندرون. كذلك ليؤكد الأتراك للعالم أن تركية الجمهورية اللادينية الجديدة قد تخلت عن دينها و إسلامها، وأنها أصبحت دولة أوروبية علمانية!..

فما كان من النصارى الأرثوذكس إلا أن فتحوا خلال ساعة واحدة من المنع التركي كنائسهم البيزنطية الرومانية وأحالوها إلى مساجد للمسلمين يؤدون فيها صلاة الجمعة في أعظم مهرجان وطني قومي. وصلّى المسلمون لأول مرة في حياتهم صلاة الجمعة في الكنائس إلى جانب النصارى.ووقف خطيب المسلمين في هيكل المسيح يتلو القرآن وصعد مؤذنهم إلى قبة الناقوس ليرفع الآذان. وكان موقف المسيحي التلقائي والعفوي هذا سبباً في حدوث أروع حادثة وطنية في تاريخ النضال السوري من أجل عروبة أهل لواء اسكندرون قوّت في نفوس السوريين رابطة القومية العربية في ظل الدين الإسلامي والدين المسيحي، بعد أن كانوا يقولون أن الأديان تهدم القوميات. وإذا بهذا الموقف الديني يحمي القومية العربية ويشد أزرها ويدافع عنها أمام الخطر الأجنبي الداهم. وإذا بها أيضاً أعظم مظاهرة سياسية أمام لجنة دولية جاءت لتشهد مقدار دعوى الأتراك في هذا اللواء العربي السليب. فكانت أبلغ دفاع عن عروبة الإسكندرونيين واتحاد سكانه.


في عام 1938 عُيِّن الكومندان كوليه حاكماً للواء اسكندرون، وكان مكلفاً بتتريك عرب اللواء بأي ثمن كان فاعتَقَلَ وعَذَّب وهدَّد العرب هناك من مسيحيين ومسلمين. ومرة دعا رجال الدين الأرثوذكس رعاة المسيحيين هناك وقال لهم بلهجة الناصح والمهدد معاً:

” إنني مسيحي وأعتز بديني، واعتزازي بديني لا يسمح لي أن أسجلَ مسيحياً بكونه عربياً فالمسيحي مسيحي فقط، والمسلم وحده العربي ”

فأجابوه بهدوء :

” إن كان الدين المسيحي يقف حائلاً أمام عروبتنا، فإننا مستعدون لجعل جميع مسيحيي لواء اسكندرون مسلمين منذ هذه اللحظة،إننا عرب و العروبة وجود و كيان، و الدين عقيدة و إيمان و هما لا يتناقضان. هل ترضى يا حضرة المفوض أن تتخلى عن قوميتك الفرنسية لتعتنق القومية الألمانية باعتبارك مسيحياً”. فثارت ثائرته و طردهم من أمامه.


November 3rd, 2009, 12:34 am


trustquest said:

Shami, you have great knowledge and I watched your contribution to this forum, but your language regarding the regime is not to the readers of this blog taste. Calling the regime as Nosairi is not a reference to the regime figures religion but to the whole sect and if the regime religious affiliation is part of their decision making that does not mean the sect is responsible for that. This language you are suing is good only for small group of fundamental fanatic religious follower not to public. Syrian public consists of all groups, sects and types, if you start speaking to other with their religious identity you will end up in RELIGIOSTAN, or HEAVAN not in any country in the world. You might say the right thing but the language you are using is repulsive to intellectual reader and to other religions and groups to say the least and hurting others especially human rights defenders who approaching all people on the basis of the human relation not on the basis of religious affiliation. If the regime is doing wrong don’t do like them. The regime loves your language and he is holding on power because of this language, they have excuse. The religious fanatic of the Alawites are playing their cards much better than you, they kept their thoughts and philosophy uncovered and the only way to expose the dark thoughts of this group is to give them the space to express themselves and feel the freedom of exchanging thoughts which your language is not getting us there to have new beginning. If Syrians dream of a country respect humans as humans, for all religious groups and sects not only for one, not prosecuting neither the minority or the ones who it dislike this can not happen with the language you are using.

I agree with Jad completely in 81, you have to understand that accusing whole population with their spirituality and their beliefs, what ever it is, is just a straight wrong. The 2000 years old war between the two sects should not be promoted, please let only the stupid who still carrying the mantel of this war do that not a smart guy like you. Repeating some imaginary words and basing on it your proof like your saying that the regime is not going to last for ever is equal to the regime position against his stolen land, they sacrificing generations after generations like time has no value for the sake of winning a thousand year from now.

I also have a question which you might have the answer to. Regarding the new relation between Turkey and Iran, how the governing Turkish party thinks of Shia Islamic revolution and their expansion in the Muslim world and what is the Trukish governing party stand regarding the acquisition of nuclear technology by Iran?, do you also think that Turkish recent overture to reach Islamic world had cool off some of the rhetoric of the fundamental Shia in the area.

November 3rd, 2009, 1:02 am


Shami said:

Trust,i dont see the Islamic world as divided(as people) ,there are minorities of extremist groups,among them the iranian regime and its followers in Lebanon or the badr militia in Iraq that could creat problems in some restricted parts of our Umma but they can change nothing in the long term.I foresee a bad end for Hezbollah in Lebanon,how could it be different?And Qaida and alikes.
They have no future ,this is for sure.
As for Turkey ,it’s all about business ,Turkey is in great need of Iranian gas and its energy ,the iranians are unable to extracte it and they need foreigner companies like the Turkish and Malaysian ones,as incredible it’s is the iranians import refined oil and gas for their internal needs ,the lines in front of petrol stations are huge and the cuts of electricity are comparable to Syria …so it’s all about business ,the reason is economical ,the difference with the syrian regime’s relation to the iranian theocracy is that the Turkish government will never allow to destroy large parts of old Istanbul in order to make place to modern propaganda centers for rafidi ayatollahs from the iranian regime or the Shirazis.
As for using nusayris instead of alawites ,it’s a mistake if it means the alawite community as whole,we must name them as they want to be named,it’s their right and i know that they prefer to be named Alawites.
As for Iran as Nation ,i love the Iranian culture and the Iranian people a lot ,i have many Iranian friends.So be patient with me.

November 3rd, 2009, 1:21 am


jad said:

It bothers you that the Iranians built their cultural centre and it doesn’t bother you seeing Yalbougha ‘Sunni’ complex next to it, 20 times bigger, environment disaster for Barada, Urban fabric disaster for the area, and it is still standing there as a sign of our engineering failure for the last 30 years, yet what you care about is a freaking Iranian Cultural centre that no Syrian even visit.
Do you have a drop of logic in your brain or you are that much blind?
I feel sorry for you and for any one who have your twisted sectarian way of thinking, people like you are the reason we are where we are.

November 3rd, 2009, 1:35 am


Shami said:

Jad thank you,did you ask yourself who was behind it?

The yalbougha complex is an other culural genocide of this regime ,as damascene urban designer you certainly knew that in its place there was one of the most beautiful mameluk mosque in Damascus ?
The waqf minister of that time was obliged to sign its destruction ,forced by Hafez or Rifaat.For what?Btw ,the baathi building look as usual very cheap today with its poor architecture that contrast with the wonderful and high quality mameluk architecture of the mameluk era buildings.
Jad we had worse disaster in Aleppo ,in 1978 20% of the old city has been destroyed (the jewish quarter) but also some of the most beautiful serails of the city ,with large domes hectares remained empty till these ,some of the ugliest baathi buildings that you can see in Syria are now there in front of a large empty place.

November 3rd, 2009, 1:48 am


jad said:

Dear Kareem
I apologize for my last sentence, it sounded very personal, it wasn’t supposed to be this way.

November 3rd, 2009, 2:59 am


why-discuss said:


Beirut old houses are destroyed everyday by the Sunni-Christian government to leave room for glass building luxurious apartment towers mostly bought by Gulf citizens or Lebanese working in the gulf. Most arab countries give little importance to their history, it is part of what I mentioned before of the indifference of arab governments ( mostly sunni) toward Culture and toward the building of an national identity.
The old souks of Beirut where all kind of people were meeting have been transformed in Via Veneto chic shops by the Hariri-French mafia and used by yuppies and Gulf tourists. No theaters, no concert halls, no cultural center, only Gucci shops and chic restaurants. The the old ‘Borj’ is forgotten!
Thank God the old souk of Damascus is preserved and that is an achievement.
Arabs should look at Iran, how they respect the esthetics of their gardens, their old buildings… All arab countries should learn from the heretic Iran.

November 3rd, 2009, 3:13 am


Shami said:

WHY DISCUSS ,when the wrong is done by a sunni and the right is done by an atheist for example,i will support the atheist against the sunni.
As for Isphahan go see the last pictures of its river and towers build around the old city which is today ashyxiated and the river is polluted or the large street that cut the wonderful city of Yazd in two parts,but despite all ,on this matter ,Iran and Morroco did better.

November 3rd, 2009, 4:25 am


Global Voices Online » Syria: The Best or the Worst Article Ever? said:

[…] a blogger) penned a letter to the editor of National Geographic that was republished on the blog Syria Comment, calling the National Geographic article a “misrepresentation of the Syria that […]

November 3rd, 2009, 12:21 pm


Global Voices in Italiano » Siria: articolo da incorniciare o da buttar via, quello del National Geographic? said:

[…] blogger [in]) ha scritto una lettera all'editore del National Geographic, poi rilanciata dal blog [in] Syria Comment, definendo l'articolo del National Geographic una “rappresentazione […]

November 5th, 2009, 5:25 am


Welcome | Project on Middle East Democracy said:

[…] to the U.S., Imad Mustafa, wrote a lengthy letter (posted at Syria Comment) in an attempt to discredit Belt’s article. According to Mustafa, “this piece, laden with inaccuracies and disinformation, was a […]

November 13th, 2009, 6:00 pm


Hisham Adouan said:

It is true that there are many inaccuracies in the NG article, however, describing the people in power as Mafia-like is not one of them.

H. A.

November 16th, 2009, 7:11 pm


Alexia Lia said:

It is not the first time the National Geographic has criticized politically the Middle East. There was an article on Iraq’s Kurds in 2003 that also threw a very bad light on Iraq’s interior policies. ‘Coincidentally’, this critical piece was published when the US launched their war in Iraq.

November 30th, 2009, 12:45 pm


kais zakaria said:

look what’s happening now in Syria, and you will definitely figure out who was right, Belt or Mustapha.
Assad turned out to be one of the worst tyrants in all history. his brutality has by far exceeded his father’s. the tragedy of Hama 82 has been repeated in tens on cities and towns across Syria. his sucking up to Iran and Russia has turned into complete slavery. Assad has taken Syria back into the dark ages (not only a shadowland).
Simply, the sophistication of Mr Mustapha’s English cannot hide the obvious truth about the country.

June 8th, 2016, 2:27 am


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