Saturday, June 28, 2008 

Fly in, fly out

Never trust an article that begins with: "In the evenings, the glitterati of Damascus gather at Z-Bar".

Friday, June 27, 2008 

And we thought it was just the Arab World

The EU has passed a draft law making anonymous blogs illegal.

To run a blog, you would have to register with your full - and real - name. And it's all because we are polluting the internet with "misinformation and malicious intent".

Egypt tried to do it, and failed. Syria tried to do it, and failed. The difference is, Europe knows what it is doing.

Privacy International rates parts of the EU as being the worst places in the world for protecting your personal information - yes, worse than the Arab World.

For Big Brother, look West.

Sunday, June 22, 2008 

Another close McCain adviser is former CIA director James Woolsey, who has openly advocated bombing Syria.

Saturday, June 21, 2008 

Israel and Iran

Israel has made a test-run for an attack on Iran. It sent its planes west, over the Mediterranean to an area over Greece - exactly the same distance from Israel as Iran's Natanz nuclear plant, but in the opposite direction.

The US has confirmed it was a try-out for an attack on Iran.

Why is no-one condemning this trial-run as an act of aggression in itself. It is far more threatening than any words that have come out of Ahmedinijad's mouth.

The UN's nuclear watchdog (the IAEA) has feebly responded by warning that an attack will make Iran even more determined to get nuclear weapons.

I always like to play the reverse game. Turn it around. Let's say Iran flew jets east in a trial-run for a bombing campaign over Israel. What would the UN say?

(a) Iran must be disarmed by whatever means possible - an emergency Security Council meeting is called for tonight.


(b) Iran, please don't attack Israel, it will just make Israel more determined to get nuclear weapons.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 

Bashar in India - how did he do it, and what's going on?

Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad has arrived in India - the first Syrian head of state to visit in three decades. And the most important foreign trip Bashar Al-Assad has ever made.

Politics - Israel, America, Iraq and Lebanon - may be Bashar's immediate concern. But with the oil set to dry up within two years, Syria is starting to court foreign economic powers. And the world's strongest economies over the next decade will be India and China - not America or Europe.

So who won the bid to run Syria's largest oil company - an Indian-Chinese joint venture, taking over from a Canadian firm.

But how did Bashar make it to India? A neutral party in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and close to the US, a few things must have gone through the Indian Prime Minister's head. Most importantly, how will this affect our new relationship with Israel. The answer - if Israel can talk to Syria, surely we can.

And what a visit - five days will be spent in the country. To put that in context - most political visits last a few hours, or a day at most. When Sarkozy came to Lebanon on his landmark visit, he stayed for three hours. He barely had time to get through passport control.

Bashar's taken a huge team to India - including the economy and trade minister, and the telecoms and technology minister.

The reason for bringing the economy minister is obvious. But why the telecoms and technology man?

Well, my personal - off-the-radar and slightly leftfield - prediction: India's Reliance Telecom or Bharti wants to buy Syriatel, which has been up for sale for a while. Both Reliance and Bharti have been trying to get their hands on MTN (a South African company which also has a foot in Syria) - but Syriatel would be a quick hit, and give the Indians exactly what they want - easy access to a developing market.

But reason number two for bringing the telecoms and technology minister - Bashar has already said he wants Syria to be a call-centre country, like India. He wants foreign countries to outsource their call centres to Syria. And India is the world leader in that field.

And reason number three - Syria has a huge amount to learn from India's technology industry. Tech is India's oil.

It's the economy stupid.

So what makes us so sure Bashar is so economy-obsessed? Look at many of Bashar's key appointments since 2000. The Deputy Prime Minister - Abdullah Al-Dardari - has an economic background. There are experts who used to work in the World Bank. And Syria's ambassador to Washington is - tellingly - a businessman, not a politician, not even a Ba'ath Party member.

One of Syria's sharpest minds is the ambassador to UAE - which is set to become the Arab World's financial powerhouse. And the eloquent Buthayna Sha'aban - who started out as the President's spokesperson, and one of his closest allies - now has the job of enticing Syrians living abroad to come back home and use their skills to build the economy. And it seems to be working.

The economy is the new politics.

Sunday, June 15, 2008 

Random Beirut thoughts

This is completely subjective and deliberately uncomprehensive. A list of words I wrote, painting a picture of my first impressions of walking back into the city.

Bey: No McDonalds sign (the fast food joint opposite the AUB in Bliss Street is faceless - but the two policemen who used to stand guard outside aren't there anymore).

Roadblocks (they're everywhere now - but the best taxi drivers know how to get through them without slowing down).

Second language (Monot: "bonjour" - heard on street corners, and in shop doorways. Hamra: "hello").

Posters = healthy politics (this was before the recent clashes - the posters are everywhere, you can locate yourself by the words on the walls).

Hariri obsession (Kulna maak posters in Quratem - haven't I seen something similar in Syria?. Men in black at the bomb site, looking solemn, getting ready for the highlight of their day - the daily memorial at 12.55. There is music played at the bomb site, 24 hours a day. Counters all over town, reminding everyone how many days it's been since Hariri was killed).

Gemayzeh (all new, pan-european flavour).

Tribeca (electrobeats).

Downtown (every day is a public holiday).

Saturday, June 07, 2008 

Syria Planet lives on

It was supposed to be all over today. The guys behind Syria Planet no longer had the resources to keep running it. So Yaman Salahi has come to the rescue.

He is taking over the hosting and running of the site, so that we can all continue to be part of the Syrian blogosphere.

Thanks Yaman!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008 

Syria to establish embassy in Beirut

Syria and Lebanon are going to exchange ambassadors for the first time. There will be a Syrian embassy in Beirut and a Lebanese embassy in Damascus.

The two countries have never had a diplomatic relationship, because Hafez Al-Assad didn't recognise Lebanon's independence. As Hafez said, Lebanon and Syria are one country with two governments.

But it wasn't just Hafez who wanted to re-integrate Lebanon as part of Syria - every single Syrian president has made it a part of their policy. Until Bashar.

Bashar has always said, when the time is right, there will be a normal bilateral diplomatic relationship - exactly the same as the one that exists between the US and Canada, for example. Until now, Bashar said he would wait until Israel leaves Lebanon's Occupied Shebaa Farms. But now the goalposts have moved.

The announcement is due to be made when Bashar visits new Lebanese president Michel Sleiman later this month.

Sunday, June 01, 2008 

Saving Syria Planet

Syria Planet, the feed for every Syrian blog on the internet, is being taken down in one week.

A lack of resources is being blamed. But this can't happen. Syria Planet has held the Syria blogosphere together since the days when there were just a handful of blogs. Taking it down would destroy the Syrian blogosphere's public space.

And re-creating it would take a very long time. No-one - other than SyPlanet - has a decent list of every Syrian blog.

Let's save Syria Planet.


Not found: Occupied

Here's a search I did (top right) on a CNN story, before I decide whether to read it or not.

Click on the image to enlarge.

About me

  • Written by sasa
  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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