Difficult Decisions for Assad, but Syrian Art Sizzles

Syrian Art Sizzles, by Andrew Lee Butters for Time's MidEast blog:

Syrian artists — or at least some of them — are poor no more. Middle Eastern art in general is the latest emerging scene in the contemporary art world, and Syria is moving to the center of it. In the past two years, prices for the artists that Samawi represents have risen 500 to 1,000 percent. Paintings for his top artist, Safwan Dahoul (pictured above), command as much as $200,000. Ayyam Gallery sells most of its works for around $10,000 to $20,000, has a branch in Dubai, is opening one in Beirut, and an exhibition — "Damascus Calling" — at an international art show in New York this October. …..

Difficult decisions loom for Syria's Assad
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis – Analysis
Reuters, 8 Sept. 2008

DAMASCUS (Reuters) – After basking in international limelight, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad faces difficult decisions that could change the political landscape of the Middle East.

Peace talks with Israel and cooperation on Lebanon have helped bring the once international outcast in from the cold, culminating in a visit last week by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the first Western head of government to visit Syria since the 2005 killing of Lebanese statesman Rafik al-Hariri.

But Assad, shaped by his late father's lifetime of struggle with Israel, is facing pressure to change old alliances with Iran and militant groups, and take specific action on Lebanon to dispel the impression that Syria still refuses to accept the sovereignty of its smaller neighbor. …. Syria has asked France for help on stalled peace talks with Israel. …. "Assad wants to keep talking with Israel without committing to anything. It is understandable since Israel has also not given him anything," one diplomat in the Syrian capital said.

"But Syria cannot keep on dancing with everybody without kissing anyone. Assad has shown no signs of burning bridges with Iran. Hamas is an easier card to play," he added.

Damascus demands the return of all the Golan. Israel, in turn, wants Syria to scale back ties with Iran and cut links to the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah, which could mean expelling the Hamas leadership from Damascus and cutting an alleged supply line to the Lebanese Shi'ite group from Syria.

Hamas has denied an Arab press report that its exiled leader Khaled Meshaal was moving to Sudan, but the group stands to lose politically if a peace deal is signed between Israel and Syria….. Syria favors moving to direct talks only after a new U.S. administration comes to office. Assad said an American role was necessary but Turkey will continue to be a main mediator.


….. Syria's proposed economic association agreement with the European Union faces opposition from Britain if Damascus does not cut its alleged support to infiltrators into Iraq. The agreement needs approval of all European Union members to pass.

"Syria is still seen as having a behavior problem, and a new U.S. administration will not change this. One way of doing so is to deliver on (opening) embassies with Lebanon, start physical work on the demarcation of the border and stop backing insurgents in Iraq," another diplomat said.

Assad recently agreed to open diplomatic relations with Beirut and border demarcation, but these issues are mired in committees. Sarkozy made it clear that French rapprochement would not last without specific Syrian action.

Leading Syrian journalist Thabet Salem said the lure of returning the Golan and the economic benefits of peace — Syria's economy has woefully underperformed for decades — would drive Syrian rulers to change their external posture.

"Syria always puts its interests first," Salem said. "The issue is not whether Syria can disengage from Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas but if Israel does not give back the Golan and the talks fail. We're then back to point zero.

“Egyptian anger at Syria and Qatar” (Al-Akhbar Lebanon) Mideastwire.com

Cairo is angry at the Syrian and Qatari movements. The sources revealed to Al-Akhbar that Cairo was not pleased at Syria and Qatar’s attempts to enter on the line of the prisoner exchange deal being brokered by the Egyptians between the Palestinian Hamas movement and the Israelis.

…The official stressed: “We were never against Damascus. But, on the other hand, we never supported its project and attempts to impose its control and hegemony on Lebanon or to spread the Iranian Shi’i project in the region”…”

“Awakenings elements seeking asylum outside of Iraq…” (Az-Zaman)  Mideastwire

…“The commander of the Awakening forces in Diyala stated that thousands of his elements were about to seek asylum in the West along with their families, for fear of being killed or kidnapped by the militias and the governmental troops in light of the Iraqi authorities’ decision to pursue and disarm them. The commander of the Awakening forces in the Diyala province, Ala’a Hamad Sultan al-Nadawi, warned of the bleak fate of his fighters if the government does not handle the unemployment problem that will emerge following its decision to allow only a few elements to join its security forces with thousands of others left without a job. ….

Accord aims to end north Lebanon bloodshed AFP

A reconciliation accord due to be signed later Monday between Alawites and Sunnis in northern Lebanon's capital of Tripoli aims to restore state control in the port city and put an end to bloodshed…..

UN to demand Israel pay Lebanon $1 billion by Roee Nahmias

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will demand that Israel pay Lebanon $1 billion in compensation over damages caused during the Jewish state's 2006 war against Hizbullah, Lebanese media reported Saturday….

Why Did Violence Plummet? It Wasn't Just the Surge. By: Bob Woodward | The Washington Post
In Washington, conventional wisdom translated these events into a simple view: The surge had worked. But the full story was more complicated. At least three other factors were as important as, or even more important than, the surge. These factors either have not been reported publicly or have received less attention than the influx of troops. …

Israeli Police Suggest Indicting Olmert By: Isabel Kershner | The New York Times

The Israeli police on Sunday recommended indicting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on charges including bribe-taking, fraud and breach of trust.

Tzipi Livni: Grasping the Nettle By: Dominic Moran | ISN Security Watch
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is favored to assume the role of prime minister, but victory on 17 September guarantees nothing. …

Zvi Bare'l in Haaretz, here (via FLC)

"….Better yet, Israel, which has always made sure to enlist the U.S. against Syria and made an essential contribution to sanctions against Syria, has broken through a new road for itself and shown the U.S. policy of sanctions to be an empty vessel…."

Comments (12)

Observer said:

I do believe that the negotiations with Israel are meant to allow some freedom of action on the part of Syria towards Iran. Syria likes its alliance but does not want it to become too close.
The West is asking the impossible of Syria, they are asking that Syria become like Jordan or Egypt, abandon all for a simple promise of keeping the regime alive while still not giving any substantial support. The $3 billion that Egypt receives are a drop in the bucket of the Egyptian woes and economic troubles. The Jordanian cannot even pump water from the Jordan river anymore.
So if I were Syria I would continue to negotiate and talk and as we say in Damascus ” follow the liar to his doorstep”.

If the Syrians believe that a new administration will give them any new leaway they are mistaken. The US has limited ability to offer anything substantial as it cannot deliver what AIPAC has already vetoed.

The Syrians are afraid as they see the entire region extremely fragile and the fact that the new power in Iraq is different from any of the other regimes for the first time we have a goverment that is backed by the majority in the country therefore the rule of a family or clan or sect in the minority over the majority is coming to an end.
The reason the sunnis are deathly afraid of the new Maliki assertiveness is that they know that his majority community will back him fully.

Once again the big loser is Saudi Arabia. They have lost on all fronts. Egypt is irrelevant and Jordan is an Israeli colony.

This is exactly what the Salafists want; complete chaos and failure of every project small or big regional or internattional.

September 8th, 2008, 6:42 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Egypt is irrelevant and Jordan is an Israeli colony.


If Syria agrees to a peace treaty with Israel, will you have a different label for Syria, or will they be “irrelevant” and/or “an Israeli colony” as well? Please explain your answer.

How do you know if Syria isn’t irrelevant now?

September 8th, 2008, 7:12 pm


Leila Abu-Saba said:

Hah – I’m going to Damascus in four weeks… for a very short visit. My traveling companion is an artist and art teacher – now we’ve got one more must-see to shoehorn into our whirlwind tour! Ak! Thank you so much for posting the link about the Syrian art scene – I sent it to her just now.

September 8th, 2008, 7:26 pm


Karim said:

I’m sorry Observer ,but when i read you i prefer to say Mouhalel Bol instead of Mouhalel Siyasi.

About the Syrian painters and sculptors,in his blog ,Dr Imad Mustapha regularly introduces syrian talents.
Unfortunately in Iraq ,they also have great artists,many of these works were lost for ever when the neo cons and neo tatars invaded Baghdad.

September 9th, 2008, 3:43 am


Rumyal said:

The first paiting looks a little bit like a Fernand Léger piece. Joshua, are you taking a cue from Imad Moustafa’s blog? 🙂

September 9th, 2008, 4:04 am


Averroes said:


I agree that Saudi Arabia is a big loser currently, but I differ with you on your description of Egypt in particular. Egypt is currently dormant, but it is home to a living people and will bounce back sooner or later.

Let us hope that the Maliki government will be a government for all its people, Shiites, Sunnis, and otherwise, although I doubt it. We really don’t need to repeat the agonies of the past in reverse.

September 9th, 2008, 4:17 am


Karim said:

One of the best syrian sites on the web dedicated to the great aleppine painter Louai al Kayyali.


and here an anthology of Syrian artists.


some of the works of Fatih al Moudaress.

September 9th, 2008, 4:18 am


Karim said:

An interesting report from Al Jazeera.


September 9th, 2008, 9:38 am


trustquest said:

Thanks Karim for the link to Louay Kayali site.
Q: why the link of Syria Art, did not list Talal Abudan? or the guy is forgotten in the dictator prison like Kamal Lubwani.

And can Imad Mustafa introduce Abudan to his “collection”, which I hope he asked permission to do so from Artists and legal owners.

September 9th, 2008, 10:58 am


Karim said:

Ahleen Trustquest ,few people also know that Dr Kamal Labwani is an artist ,and i saw some of his works ,not bad at all.
But is Imad Mustapha not as prisoner than we are?.

September 11th, 2008, 12:43 am


trustquest said:

Ahleen wasahleen feek Karim,
There is no mercy for anyone what ever his value. This is what they did to him and his arts last January. That is why I doubt Mr. Mustafa stand on art and artists:

Those wonderful Syrian intellectuals all around the world, and especially who could not visit their own country, the whole world recognized them but not their country. This is a criminal act no one can defend. I really feel too sad for this situation and I feel their fans not only have to make them recognized but also need to protect them from the perjuries of the authority. Nizar Kabani , was not the friend of the regime, they hate him and he hate them. The authority has no right to present him, talk about him and pick and choose what they like from him after his death, because they have no right to slice him as they want.
Dr. Imad Mustafa, is a wonderful guy who is way better than his echelon friends who put him in position. But, that does not mean he is better than them if he did not criticize half century long of harm done by the regime. There is now something like, I know you hate me, and I hate you but I can wait till you die and pick and choose from you without your permission, this is dirty. That what happen to Nizar Kabani and happened to Dr. Sharabi on Mustaf blog.
Read embers and ashes on his blog:,+Hisham+Sharabi&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us

And see the wrong conclusion he comes up with:
“he continued his conversation with me as if I had told him nothing about my job. I think the late Sharabi was not very fond of ambassadors, but how can I help it?”

He should have at least criticized his country for not giving those wonderful people what they deserve. I think Mr. Mustafa is not doing any good for those people he presents or try to recognize while he is in his current position. I wish he would realize that.

September 12th, 2008, 4:12 pm


Karim said:

Despite all this sad reality ,we have to be understanding with the good elements who unfortunately work for the Syrian regime and even polish its image outside of Syria ,many of them are good people and inwardly they criticize the regime more than we do,… you know the nature of the regime we have in Syria.
Clovis Maksoud dislikes the Syrian regime ,but Imad Mustapha has good relation with him.When the regime will end ,such people will play an important role in the transitional era.And there will be no need for a debaathification,all of those are false baathists and Mustapha i think is not Baath member.

September 13th, 2008, 2:22 am


Post a comment

Neoprofit AI beylikdüzü escort