Syrian Corruption Hits Prime Time

The following news item about corruption in Syria will stand next to Makhlouf's Syriatel scandal. Muhammad Hamsho is an old friend of Bashar's. He was, and may still be the Apple Macintosh agent in Syria, which is probably how he became Bashar's friend. They used to go jet skiing together on the Latakia coast during the days that Bashar al-Asad was better known as Mr. Computer. Hamsho's wife is a muhajiba and he comes from a Sunni family, but he has already been arrested and released for shady dealings, despite the fact that he is a deputy in parliament. According to Ammar Abdulhamid, his businesses are known to act as a front for the President's Brother, Maher, who will probably be the real person behind the new "private" TV station. La plus ca change….

Syrian Corruption Hits Prime Time

Damascus, 30 Oct. (AKI) – Syria's Information Minister Muhsin Bilal has ordered the closure of the country's only private TV station barely eight months after it first went on air. The Sham statellite channel broadcasting programmes – made up of Arab soap operas – from a free trade zone in Damascus shut down on Monday. According to government sources Bilal's order was communicated "verbally" to the station owner, Syrian parliamentarian Muhammad Akram al-Jundi, and to its director Maamun al-Bunni.

No reason was given for the government's demand, the sources said.

Despite broadcasting since its launch on what it said was an experimental basis, Sham had become the fifth most popular Arab TV channel in Syria.

According to some Syrian newsreports the station's demise can be attributed to moves by a Syrian entrepreneur Muhammad Hamsho to launch his own television station, Dunia. Hamsho who is close to President Bashar al Assad's government will now be able to attract advertising which previously went to Sham, the reporst said.

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Syria's line up in Lebanon 

(Click on photo to enlarge) I was sent this photo by Alex via a pro-Jeajea list-serve. The Lebanese do have a sense of humor. After reading news items like the one above, such photos seem particularly mordant. Or following news items like the one below.

Razan Zaiytoune, who produces "Shril" sent out this note on Michel Kilo's trial today. Le Monde article also writes about his trial today, for those who read French (thanks to Eric Brunner-Williams)

Lawyer Khalil Matoq announced to SHRIL that the cases of Michel Kilo, Mahmoud Issa, Suleiman al-Shomar, and Khalil Hussein were referred today – 30 October 2006 – to the 2cn criminal court in Damascus. The first hearing court will be tomorrow to interrogate them in front of the court, Despite the appealing of the decision of the refer judge "qadi al-ihala".

Lawyer Matoq stated that this action controvenes the law and criminal trial procedure and that the criminal court should not put its hand on this case now and should wait until the final judgment from the supreme court.

On the other hand, the 2nd refer judge in Damascus ratified today the decision of the investigation judge of the prisoner Anwar al-Bunni, and  referred the case to the criminal court. 
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem has agreed to visit Baghdad, possibly in November, in what FM Zubari called an "acid test" of Syria's attitude. Iraq and the United States accuse Syria and Iran of supporting insurgents. The visit would be the first by a Syrian minister since the invasion. 

Farid Ghadry claims Syrians are rushing to convert to Shia Islam.  — Iran has "significantly expanded its influence in Syria," he claims, by "encouraging Alawis and Sunnis to convert to Shi'ite Islam."

Syrians have been observing over the last year a dangerous phenomena mostly witnessed by an alarming number of non-Shia turning to Khomeini-style Shia in return for financial rewards," the opposition Reform Party of Syria said. "Whole villages and urban areas are adopting the Hizbullah model whereby clinics, schools, and social services are provided by Iran in return for Syrians to convert to Shi'ism." The regime of President Bashar Assad has given Iran "carte blanche" in Syria.

Comment: I cannot help but interject here. At Brookings a week ago, I was asked about the conversion stories. I said that I do not believe that they have any basis in fact. The one small village in the Jazira to convert to Shi’a Islam did so over 6 years ago, before the Iraq invasion and before the Lebanon War. We still do not know why. I am sure a number of Syrians visited Shiite mosques out of respect for Hizbullah's effort this summer, but I seriously doubt many have "converted." Anyway, it is technically incorrect to talk of conversion, because there is no official ritual for changing denominations in Islam. If a Sunni wishes to embrace Shiism, he simply goes to the Shiite Mosque, where one prays slightly differently. Turning from Shia to Sunni Islam is similar to a Protestant who switches from one church to another – or, for that matter, a Catholic who wished to become a Protestant. They are all Christians; one does not have to get re-baptized to switch churches. It is not a matter of conversion, merely of switching denominations. The ease of switching from a Sunni to a Shiite mosque does not belie the fact that socially the switch would not be easy at all.

The following quote is from an Haaretz editorial Sunday:

Between D.C. and Damascus

It makes sense to respond in a positive tone to Assad's peace signals while putting out quiet feelers through indirect channels from Turkey to Saudi Arabia, to determine his intent. Israel must take U.S. military and political considerations and Washington's requirements of Syria, into consideration in any fruitful process that develops between Jerusalem and Damascus.

Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov expressed conviction that peace in the middle East cannot be established without Syria, calling for ending the occupation of the Syrian Golan to achieves this peace.

In a lecture he delivered Sunday evening at al-Assad Public Library in Damascus, Mr. Primakov said it is necessary that peace should be comprehensive and Israel has to accept to return the occupied Syrian Golan. However, he asserted, Israel was not ready for such peace.

The former Russian Premier called for a just and comprehensive settlement in the region as military power had proved failure to achieve anything.

Mr. Primakov praised the deep, insight vision of President Bashar al-Assad and His Excellency's practical stances vis-à-vis the peace as a continuity to the approach adopted by the great late President Hafez al-Assad who Primakov described as one of the greatest politicians in the region and the world in the 20th century.

The former Russian Premier saw that uni-polarity  in the world would not last long as the world is on its way towards multiplicity and it is not acceptable any more that the US decides the fate of the world.

Mr. Primakov said Israel failed in its latest war on Lebanon whether in destroying Hezbullah party or inciting a national sedition against the  party.

Comments (8)

ivanka said:

La phrase que vous avez ecrite en francais n’a aucun sense. Vous devez etre aussi brillant en francais qu’en sciences politiques.

La photo n’est pas marrante, elle est raciste.

Votre humour facon Parrain est particulierement malsain et macabre. Vous decidez du sort d’un pays suivant le cretin qui a la meilleur blague parrain.

October 30th, 2006, 8:55 pm


ivanka said:

“he comes from a sunni family, BUT he has been already arrested..” ?????????? “BUT”

Do you understand that Sunni people do not get arrested.

October 30th, 2006, 8:58 pm


ivanka said:

This is a good article Dr Landis, but the way you have written it is quite unusual.

October 30th, 2006, 8:59 pm


Charles G. Coutinho, Ph. D. said:

Grazhdanin Primakov’s comments, are on the whole, neither very interesting nor very important. Currently, he occupies, no place of importance nor exercises any influence in Russia. Current Russian policy relating to the Near East has been best described by Pavel Abelsky (, as one of playing a ‘muted role in soothing tensions’. Meaning, notwithstanding the hopes of such ex-Soviet figures as Primakov, the days in which Sovietskaya Vlast, was able to exercise a balancing role, vis`a-vis the USA, are gone never to return.

As per the specifics of Primakov’s comments, if one ignores the fawning comments about Assad Pere, what strikes me in particular, is that like
many other commentators recently, is his assertion that the days of Washington’s unipolar
days are over. Read the comments by Hass in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, or for that matter, Renaud Girard’s comments to the same effect (“World entering dangerous era of US impotence”) in Le Figaro (see:
Whether this is in fact a true shift away, or merely an interlude before the next American President, with ‘free hands’, to shift American policy away from where ‘Bushism’ has brought it to, is not to mine mind, as clear as some of the above figures make out. After all, it only took
half a dozen years approximately, for the USA to
recover from the debacle in Vietnam, to enter the
seemingly halycon days of Ronald Reagan.

October 30th, 2006, 11:05 pm


ausamaa said:

So what is the story?

The influential local Apple Macintosh agent and his arrest? Well, he was arrested and released on bail, most likely. Otherwise he will not be arrested to begin with, was he not? You want him killed fast or what?
The water skiing, is that the story??
The Muhajjaba wife??
Or is it the arrest under a “junha” or a “misdemeanor” charge of a “father” and his son for allegedly forming up a “youth” organization?
Is it the shutting down of the TV station owned by this and that?
So if an influential Member of Parliament is an allegedly corrupt man is arrested, and if a TV station owned by the President Brother was shut down, and if a man and son have been arrested on a misdemeanor charge and will appear before the court tomorrow. And if the Lawyer has the COURAGE and Fierceness to publicly mouth his objections in the middle of Damascus? Where does the complaints lie?

Or is it the irritated al Ghadery hallucinations about alarming conversions to “Khomeini” style Shieasim for financial reward? Heck, what is bothering him anyway?

From some of what I read above,it seems that Syria is as normal a country as any other in our area and that someone is trying to do something about corruption. Yeh, they may get unscathed later, but action was taken against them.

So, where is the Beef?

To put things into better prespective, imagine if Saddam (not to mention “free” other Arab rulers with better English or Frensh accents for example) was the ruler of Syria instead of Bashar. How much of the above “important events” would have been mentioned or discussed. Hell, he scared the whole Iraqi people and even Bush into believing he had WMD?

October 31st, 2006, 12:02 am


ausamaa said:

Oh, I beg your pardon. I totaly misunderstood!

So the Macintoch man who was once arrested for shady dealings is now to Front as an owner for the expected New TV station, which is to replace the Closed one which is owned by Al Jundi who is rich enough but not powerfull enough to keep his TV station! So he got the license on his own, opened a Private TV station in Syria without anyone contesting, with no backing from big ones, and when he appears to be making money, they run him off. No partnering offers were made and accepted or rejected? We shall know in time, I hope.
Now I got the story right as it appeared.
Let us see…

October 31st, 2006, 1:11 am


Alex said:

Josh since today seems to be dedicated to criticizing you, here is my contribution:

Apple Macintosh Agent???

When was the last time anyone used the word Macintosh? 10 years ago

Now it is only Mac …

October 31st, 2006, 3:53 am


Dubai Jazz said:

Alex, that’s because the jit skiing used to take place more than 10 years ago…

October 31st, 2006, 6:39 am


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