News Round Up (28 April 2011)

A new blogger in Damascus who writes like a dream and gives us a wonderful new voice and perspective on life in Syria. Read Amina about her confrontation with two young Alawite intelligence agents – a wonderful account of the successful deployment of “the Damsacus gambit” on Syria’s complicated chessboard of religion, class, gender, patriarchy, and national one-upmanship. Delectable and scary. Thank God it has a happy ending.

A Gay Girl in Damascus: An out Syrian lesbian’s thoughts on life, the universe and so on …
26 April 2011
My father, the hero

We had a visit from the security services: it was late at night, in the wee small hours. Everyone was fast asleep. I woke when I heard the clamor and immediately guessed what had happened….

Both China and Russia speak out against sanctions in the Security Council of the UN

Syria turmoil kills Mrs Al-Assad’s forum
The wife of President Bashar Al-Assad was attempting to gather international cultural experts
By Anna Somers Cocks | From issue 224, May 2011

Asma Al-Assad

DAMASCUS. Among the victims of the current turmoil in Syria has been the attempt by Asma Al-Assad, right, wife of President Bashar Al-Assad, to put the country on a gentler and more international path.

Mrs Al-Assad, who grew up in Britain, is patron of the Syria Heritage Foundation, a UK charity set up by Wafic Saïd, the Damascus-born businessman who has brokered important deals between the British defence industry and Saudi Arabia. Last month, encouraged by Mrs Al-Assad, the Foundation was to have sponsored the first “Cultural Landscapes Forum” in Damascus together with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

The guest speakers were the crème de la crème of the global art scene, among them: the French minister of culture and the director of the Louvre talking about the Franco-Syrian cultural experience; the director of the British Museum on the history that only objects can tell; the director of the Hermitage Museum on how to modernise a museum; the head of the Aga Khan Trust on how to value culture as an asset; the director general of Unesco on the economic impact of the cultural sector.

Qifa Nabki proves recommended reading on Syria

Independent: Western intervention in Syria would make matters worse
By Patrick Cockburn – 2011-04-27

The Page: Three Amigos Get Serious on Syria, 2011-04-28

Sens. say situation has reached “decisive point,” urge Obama to “state unequivocally” that Assad must go. McCain, Lieberman, Graham Statement on Syria WASHINGTON, DC- Today, Senators John McCain (AZ-R), Joe Lieberman (CT-ID) and Lindsey …

Sent by a well connected Lebanese

The marauders in syria have resorted to the use of weapons… rustom ghazaleh (along with ahmad ayesh) both from Huran, are leading the campaign against the marauders. … A senior leb official who contacted maher recently said that 7 army tanks were hit by rpg … The hunt has been big so far and precious … Houran will be clean i believe in under two weeks. But total house cleaning will take a few months.

A french intel official said: “unfortunatelly, this regime was never in real trouble”

We want to avoid “owning” a post-Bashar Syria because we had so much trouble ‘owning’ the post-Saddam Iraq“, (Alterman/ CFR)- Thanks to FLC

Do you have any thoughts on how this Syrian turmoil is going to resolve itself?

Syria is not like the other places. It is less internationally connected than Egypt is. It is less internationally isolated than Libya is. It is more ruthless than Tunisia. The Syrians also have the advantage of being able to learn from what other leaders have done and what their mistakes have been. The Syrian instinct is to talk soft; but to act hard…

Can you give an example?

They’ve announced that they are lifting the emergency law established in 1963, but they are not about to give up power. They reportedly have deployed more than three thousand troops to Deraa to put down the uprising there. I assume the intention of the Syrian leadership is to demonstrate that they have the capacity for so much force that they don’t have to use it. It also seems to me, however, quite clear that we are not close to the final denouement here. There are probably several more rounds [to go]…

We haven’t seen the decisive moment in Syria. The fact that Syria is so isolated in the world may make it easier for the Syrians to act with impunity…Syria’s self image, on the contrary, is that of a country that’s hunkering down, a country that has real enemies. When the national narrative is about real enemies, it makes it easier to cut yourself off, to use your force, and to keep the world from knowing much. In terms of the Syrian people, there has not yet been the sort of catalytic moment … We haven’t gotten there yet. I don’t know if we will, or when we will, but that point hasn’t come.

Some people have been speculating that a change in leadership in Syria would be a plus because it would reduce Iran’s influence in the region. Do you share that view?

Syria is Iran’s closest state ally in the Arab world – there are also non-state allies [like] Hezbollah [in Lebanon] and Hamas [in the Palestinian territories]. I think the fear of many is that a post-Bashar Syria would actually empower non-state proxies of Iran to action and in the net, help Iran in the Arab world.

UN Fails to Agree on Condemning Syria

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The deeply divided U.N. Security Council failed to agree on a European and U.S.-backed statement condemning Syrian violence against peaceful protesters on Wednesday, with Russia saying security forces were also killed and the actions don’t threaten international peace.

“A real threat to regional security in our view could arise from outside interference in Syria’s domestic situation including attempts to push ready-made solutions or taking of sides,” Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Alexander Pankin warned the U.N.’s most powerful body during a public session that followed, saying this could lead to civil war.

“It is extremely important to focus all attempts on avoiding such a dangerous turn of events, especially as Syria is a cornerstone of the Middle East security architecture,” he said. “Destabilizing this significant link in the chain will lead to complications throughout the region.”

China and India called for political dialogue and peaceful resolution of the crisis, with no mention of condemnation.

China’s U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong said the turbulence in the Mideast and North Africa has also “dealt a big blow to the stability in this region.”

If the underlying issues aren’t addressed, he warned, “they will jeopardize peace and stability in other regions. They would also have a major negative impact on the recovery of the world economy.”

Lebanon’s U.N. Ambassador Nawaf Salam stressed the country’s special relationship with Syria, saying “the hearts and minds” of the Lebanese people are with the Syrian people and are supporting President Bashar Assad’s lifting of the state of emergency and reforms.

France, Britain, Germany and Portugal circulated a draft media statement on Monday calling for the 15-member council to condemn the violence. But during consultations Wednesday afternoon, several members were opposed so at the request of the Europeans and the U.S., the Security Council then moved into open session to hear a briefing from the U.N. political chief and statements from council members.

Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari welcomed the council’s inaction and questioned the “unprecedented enthusiasm” by some members for the statement and a “lack of such enthusiasm” for attempting to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

مندوب روسيا في مجلس الامن:

“العنف ليس من طرف واحد هناك ضحايا من الجيش والامن”

مندوب الصين في مجلس الامن :

“الحكومة السورية تقوم باصلاحات وهي تجري تحقيق في الاحداث الاخيرة”

Syria’s capital tense as military fans out across country: Damascus was eerily quiet on Wednesday.
GlobalPost April 27, 2011

WSJ: Turkey Sends Delegation To Advise Syria On Reforms
By Marc Champion, 2011-04-28, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

ISTANBUL—Turkey on Thursday sent a high-level delegation of government experts to advise Syria on how to implement rapid reforms, a sign of Ankara’s concern that rising violence could trigger instability across the region and unravel Turkish commercial and foreign-policy gains.

The decision to send the team was agreed in advance with Syria’s leadership, according to Selim Yenel, deputy undersecretary for the Americas at Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Turkish leaders have repeatedly called for Mr. Assad to exercise restraint in dealing with protesters and to quickly introduce reforms, only to see their appeals ignored.

Syria is proving to be the biggest challenge to date, among the uprisings across the Middle East, for the “no problems with neighbors” policy that Turkey’s government has been following in recent years, analysts say. That policy had significantly boosted Turkey’s exports, image and influence in the region.

But in the midst of an election campaign, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan—who developed a close relationship with Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad—has come under fire from political opponents at home in recent days for being too soft on the Syrian president as the death toll in Syria has risen.

“We don’t want an authoritarian, totalitarian regime” in Syria, Mr. Erdogan said late Wednesday. “We hope the process of democratization will be rapidly pursued. Our representatives will present to [President Assad] some of our preparations.”

Thursday’s delegation to Damascus marks the beginning of a process designed to produce a “road map” for changes to Syria’s public and economic administration in line with popular demands, Mr. Yenel said in a phone interview. “They said we should send a delegation…[they] can use,” he said.

Mr. Erdogan has met with and telephoned Mr. Assad in an effort to influence him “on a number of occasions” since protests began in Syria, Mr. Yenel said. That makes Turkey one of the few countries—other than Iran—with a direct channel of communication to the Syrian leader.

“We know [that public pressure] puts them in a box, in a corner. We try to engage these people,” said Mr. Yenel, referring also to Turkey’s cautious approach to pressuring Libyan leader Col. Moammar Ghadafi.

But the uprisings in the Middle East also threaten to undermine the “no problems with neighbors” policy that has helped to expand Turkish trade and influence in the region in recent years. That policy was achieved by developing strong commercial relationships and political ties with the existing regimes, including joint cabinet meetings with Mr. Assad’s government.

“These linkages have made Turkey into a status-quo power, unwilling to see dramatic change” in the region, said Turkey analyst Henri Barkey, in a question and answer session this week held by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The “no problems” policy has put Ankara at odds with Washington when it comes to how to deal with countries such as Iran and Libya, which the U.S. seeks to isolate. Turkey opposed the imposition of sanctions on both countries and, initially, the imposition of a no-fly zone on Libya. It has also complicated the powerful image Turkey projected to the Arab street as a role model for democracy promotion, right up to Mr. Erdogan’s early call for former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign in February.

When it comes to Syria, the U.S. is also proving more cautious than in Libya about risking intervention or pressing to oust Mr. Assad. But Turkey is especially worried about the prospect of a sectarian implosion in Syria, and Turkish analysts believe tensions could emerge if Washington decides to push forward with sanctions.

Turkey came close to war with Syria in 1998, over Turkish allegations that Syria was providing safe haven to leaders of the militant Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, with which Turkish security forces have been fighting since 1984 in a conflict that cost tens of thousands of lives. The two countries share a common border of more than 800 kilometers.

“What worries us right now is Syria,” said a senior Turkish official, who declined to be named. “Our longest border is with Syria and we now have visa-free travel between the two countries. Plus, Syria has a Kurdish minority [as does Turkey]. So any big civil unrest there would be a concern for us.”….

Guardian (GB): Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown kills UK hopes of a new dawn, 2011-04-27

Julian Borger, diplomatic editor, Wednesday 27 April 2011 21.45 BST Bashar al-Assad and wife Asma with the Blairs at No 10: The familarity created by the Syrian president’s British education and wife has proved deceptive. Photograph: …

Interrogations and arrests of Kurdish activists continue in Syria, 24 April 2011

Clarifying the citizenship decree for Kurds in Syria 17 April 2011

Syria: Will Friday bring dignity or disaster?, 25 March 2011

Evening Standard: Syrian ambassador on guest list, 2011-04-27

Syria’s ambassador to London, who was summoned to the Foreign Office over the regime’s bloody crackdown on protesters, is due to attend the royal wedding. A spokesman for St James’s Palace confirmed that Sami Khiyami was still on the guest list for …

Democracy Digest » Arab Spring? Forget it.

Dictators watch Al Jazeera too and they have drawn the necessary lessons from recent events, a Washington meeting heard today. Ruling elites are recalculating and adapting to enhance their survival prospects, but external factors are marginal as there are no instruments in the democracy promotion to…

Syrian funding causes embarrassment at British university
Peter Beaumont and Jeevan Vasagar, Wednesday 27 April 2011

University of St Andrews to review acceptance of funding arranged by Bashar al-Assad’s controversial regime in Damascus, The University of St Andrews has received more than £100,000 in funding from Bashar al-Assad’s regime for its centre for Syrian studies. A prestigious British university is to review the work of one of its academic research centres because its funding was arranged by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Guardian can reveal.

The University of St Andrews, where Prince William and Kate Middleton studied, has received more than £100,000 in funding for its centre for Syrian studies with the assistance of Syria’s ambassador to the UK, Sami Khiyami.

Following questions from the Guardian about its relations with figures associated with the regime – and “in view of significant international concerns about recent events in Syria” – a spokesman for St Andrews said the university would be reviewing the centre’s work “to ensure its high academic standards are maintained”.

The university’s association with the Assad regime has come under scrutiny in the wake of the violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Syria which is estimated to have claimed 450 lives so far.

In addition to Khiyami, who the Foreign Office confirmed last night had been invited to the royal wedding, the centre’s board of advisers also boasts figures closely associated with the Damascus regime, including Fawaz Akhras, the charismatic British-based cardiologist who is not only Bashar al-Assad’s father-in-law, but also acts as a gatekeeper for the family, screening British journalists before they are granted an interview with his daughter Asma al-Assad or his son-in-law.

Akhras is also the founder of the British Syrian Society, which has organised visits to Damascus and meetings with Bashar al-Assad for sympathetic members of parliament, as well as organising an investment conference in London to introduce British, European and Arab businesses to Syrian government ministers.

Opened in November 2006 as part of the university’s school of international relations, funding for the centre was only secured with the assistance of Khiyami, who, according to the centre’s head, Prof Raymond Hinnebusch, persuaded Syrian-born British businessman Ayman Asfari to pay for it.

Asfari is head of Petrofac, the London and Aberdeen-based oil and gas services company, which is a partner of the Syrian government in two major projects in the country worth $1bn, according to the company’s figures.

The latest embarrassing disclosure over connections between a British university and an authoritarian Arab regime follows the row that engulfed the London School of Economics over its links with Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Supporters of the centre and of Hinnebusch – including the author Patrick Seale, who is an adviser to the centre – insist on the necessity of engaging with Syria as it appeared to be grappling with reform, and stress the seriousness of its academic work.

But critics claim that British universities should have been far more vigilant before associating with regimes with a record of human rights and other abuses.

According to Hinnebusch, writing in the Syrian Studies Association newsletter last year: “Khiyami made the decisive breakthrough in finding a philanthropist who was willing to provide the funding to launch the centre.”

A well-known scholar on Syria, he insists that his centre supports “politically unbiased research”, and he has written that he believes Syria is “lamentably misunderstood in policy circles and in the western media where the over-amplified voices of special interest pundits are allowed to demonise all who oppose imperial plans for the region”.

Despite the fact that the opening of the centre came at a time when western governments were attempting to engage with Damascus, Syria remained – as it still does – a police state with few political freedoms or rights of free expression, and a state where human rights abuses continue. Among events organised by the centre, in partnership with the Orient Centre for International Studies based in Syria, was a conference in Damascus in 2008 with papers provided by a former adviser to Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s harshly authoritarian father who was implicated in numerous human rights abuses, and other pro-regime officials.

Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, who has called for an inquiry into universities’ links with despotic Middle Eastern regimes, said: “We need to learn from what’s happened with Libyan funding of our universities, that universities should not accept money from governments like Syria, or those with connections to the Syrian government. The danger is that you get compromised by the amount of money, and it inevitably influences your outlook on the Middle East. I’ve argued that universities that take money from dictatorships should receive a reduction in their public subsidy.”

Guardian (GB): Syrian officers received training in Britain

Syrian officers received training at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian The British government has defended its training programme for foreign military leaders after it emerged that it had educated …

Comments (10)

N.Z. said:

Syria is one of the most prolific countries in archaeological discoveries. This history-rich country is a gem that was isolated from the outside world for 30 years by a military dictatorship.. Syria is a gem, yet to be discovered.

Had the forum took place, the most interesting topic will be, “how to value culture as an asset”, unlike the Baath culture, that tried for four decades to isolate Syrians, and erase their rich culture and history with a doomed Baath culture.

They Isolated a people from the outside world, and ruled the history-rich country as theirs. If it was not for the satellite TV’s and internet [few have access} and the 16 million expatriate, we will still be fed, the glories of the Assad era, he built roads, and electricity reached every village. whom of the world leaders came to meet him, how they sat, talked and finally, said goodbye. Wow! this is the Baath regime.

The siege on Deraa is an act of weakness, culturally unaccepted.
Children, women, elderly and the sick, no water, electricity, basic needs. How will this dark chapter of our history ends ? it is anyone’s guess.

April 28th, 2011, 7:01 pm


vlad-the-syrian said:

so we should believe this girl only beacuse she is a lesbian ?

April 28th, 2011, 7:32 pm


jad said:

Actually she is very smart: a strictly conservative society that segregate genders is her best choice…it’s heaven 😉

April 28th, 2011, 8:05 pm


jad said:

I apologize for my last comment it was a horrible joke and I think under this circumstances it sounded even more horrible than what I intended. I’m very sorry to all.

April 28th, 2011, 8:18 pm


haz said:

No Vlad.It’s just an interesting story. Sounds pretty genuine to me though – in Syria the law definitely takes second place to who you know. She is very lucky that she has such a powerful and loving father. At the other end of the spectrum, under Syria’s personal status laws her father could kill her himself if he feels she has brought shame on the family and get an absolute maximum two years in gaol. He would have to consider himself very hard done by if he was actually convicted though. Very few are.
But this demonstrates how lucky she is in the family she has been given and that Syria has more issues to deal with than just freedom of speech.

April 28th, 2011, 9:43 pm


syau said:

Haz, she is lucky to have a powerful father, but there are also many other childeren lucky to have powerful fathers around the world. Not only in middle eastern countries does your name allow you certain privileges, all over the world, including democratic western countries, ones name and status would allow them much more than the average person.

As for honour killings, I believe in most countries around the middle east, it is justified. I personally think it shouldnt be, but that’s just the way it is. Neighbouring Lebanon, honor killings impose either little or no jail term. I am also under the understanding that honour killings are currently being reviewed in Syria with the intention of eradicating the justification of such an act.

April 28th, 2011, 10:24 pm


محخمود said:

اخرجوا أيها القراء من صالة السينما فان هدا الفيلم بايخ !!! هناك فيلما أكثر اثارة في صالة سينما أخرى مجاورة – اسم الفيلم الفوسفور يضيء سماء غزة !!!

April 29th, 2011, 5:57 am


Syria Comment » Archives » Syria Reports 120 Military Killed in Jisr al-Shagour, Promises Decisive Response. More Economic Woes said:

[…] The Gay Girl in Damascus – A very talented and brave Syrian blogger, Amina Abdallah, has been detained without notification or due process by the Syrian security forces. I pushed her wonderful blog about a month ago, here. […]

June 6th, 2011, 10:29 pm


Ro said:

no offence but i didn’t like what i saw on this page. sorry

June 9th, 2011, 3:45 am


Maha said:

News Round Up (28 April 2011)
Mr Landis,
On April 28 you posted a blog supposedly by a girl named Amina. We came to find out by the creator of this Amina and by CNN today that this was not real. It was fiction, created by someone who lives in Turkey and has probably never been in Syria.
I would like to see an apology or at least an announcement to your reader that the story was not real. Mr. Landis, this is not the only fake story created about Syria and the Syrian government.
We all are responsible for the bloodshed in Syria if we don’t stop this kind of instigation that is very popular now days on the web. I urge you to please be careful and verify info before posting.
I thank you very much

June 13th, 2011, 8:09 pm


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