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The Times of London breaking news story: 28, May 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Syria.
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Syria accused of arming Hezbollah from secret bases

Hezbollah is running weapons, including surface-to-surface missiles, from secret arms depots in Syria to its bases in Lebanon, according to security sources.

You don’t say?

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On the origin of the minaret 21, February 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam, Syria.
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Also at the book launch at the Ismaili Center [see the previous post] the editor discussed a popular story relating to the birth of the Minaret. Back in the x century Arab forces retook Damascus. They went to what is today the Omayyad Mosque which was then a huge Christian church and saw the bell tower towering above them and decided that that would be a good place from which to announce the call to preyre. Lo and behold the idea of the Minaret was born. Or at least, so that particular story runs. Competing ‘versions’ of the origin of the Minaret are welcome…

Qatar to increase Syrian investment 31, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar, Syria.
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Ever reliable (…) MEMRI reports that Qatar’s Al Sharq suggests that Qatar-Syrian relations will be increasing significantly in the coming years and that Qatar will be investing some $12billion in Syria in the coming few years. Can this be attributed to the notion of Qatar contributing the Sunni half of the Gulf (read Saudi) seeking to ‘flip’ Syria away from the Iranian camp? Or is that too simplistic?

Qatar’s diplomacy shunned 29, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar, Syria.
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Qatar engages in various diplomatic forays the most famous of which being the startling resolution of the intra-Lebanese disputes back in 2008. Yet, as a short article in Lebanon NOW reports, their attempts to offer assistance are not always taken up. On this occasion Assad of Syria apparently firmly rejected any notion of Qatar mediating between Saudi and Syria earlier this year.

Lebanese Embassy Opens in Damascus 17, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Lebanon, Syria.
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Twenty years after agreeing to do so, Lebanon has got around to opening/been allowed to open its Embassy in the Syrian capital, Damascus. The initial agreement was reached at the Ta’if Accords back in 1989 which nominally ended the Lebanese Civil War.

Despite protestations to the contrary, this is clearly (another) a nail in the coffin of Syria’s wider ambitions to incorporate Lebanon back into its borders, stemming from teary-eyed notions of a greater Syria. True to form, however, Syrian officials did not attend the flag raising ceremony. Apparently they ‘forgot’ that it was happening on Sunday. Very believable…

UPDATE

Here is a link to a – frankly – far better article than mine discussing this embassy issue.

A Saudi-Syrian Rapprochement? 10, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Saudi Arabia, Syria.
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The Khaleej Times has an interesting article discussing Saudi attempts to affect a rapprochement with Syria. It is no secret (to put it mildly) that as a rule Saudi and Syria often find themselves on opposite sides of the fence. Relations plummeted after the (alleged…) Syrian backed killing of Rafik al Hariri, the Saudi citizen and general Saudi protégé, in Beirut in 2005. Their relations were further frozen when Saudi, amongst others, pressured Syria to withdraw from Lebanon the same year.

Such a reconciliation and potential augmentation of their relationship would dovetail perfectly with Saudi’s grand strategy to weaken Iran or at least, improve their hand against Tehran. With Syria and Iran being close allies for nearly three decades now, their alliance of interest, commonality and practicality, will be difficult to break up. However, Saudi has the money to potentially have a reasonable go at doing just that. Indeed, this is something that Iran can most certainly not offer Syria: ready cash. Just how much money talks, however, remains to be seen. It is worth remembering that American  is seeking to get Syria onside too. Thus Syria has two potential cash cows to milk, should they choose to. Needless to say, Assad will have to walk this particular tightrope very carefully. Being seen as giving in to America (akin to Libya, for example), abandoning their traditional ally Iran when they are clearly standing up to the Americans and siding with the ‘half-men’ of hereditary rule in the Gulf, whom the Syrian President ridiculed recently, would lose him significant credibility which, being unpopular domestically in Syria already, he can ill afford.

An inadvertently frank assessment of the Syrian economy by the Finance Minster 25, September 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Syria.
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It can almost be a little embarrassing when someone, trying to impress or cover for something, produces a story so utterly inept, so poorly thought through and which ultimately clearly, concisely and almost devastatingly makes exactly the opposite point. There can surely be no greater example of this than the Syrian Minister of Finance, Dr. Mohammed al Hussein, and his recent article in Al Thawra describing why Syria is the country least affected by the recent financial troubles.

Rather than paraphrase it myself, I will leave that to Tariq Al Homayed, a writer for Al Sharq Al Aswsat, who quite beautifully skewers Dr Al Hussein’s comically awful article.

In the article, the minister said, “We can confirm that the Syrian economy, out of all the regional economies, has been least affected by this crisis.” He added, “The reason for this goes back to restricting the channels through which this crisis could pass to enter Syria…some of the best ways of which are through financial institutions, financial markets, investments, foreign currencies and foreign trade.”

Please pay attention to the minister’s explanation: “The Syrian financial market is yet to be born, and the financial institutions and banks are still in their infancy, the capital of which is mostly domestic and even if there is non-Syrian capital, in most cases the source is Arab.”

What the finance minister is trying to say, in simple terms, is that Syria has been saved from this international financial crisis because his country has no financial market and because of the regression of banks and financial institutions in Syria, as well as the lack of foreign investments. Any Arab investments are merely grants or accompanied by political motives.

Therefore, the finance minister is attributing his country’s escape from the international financial crisis not to the strength of the Syrian economy but to its deterioration and underdevelopment.

The question that should be put to His Excellency, the Syrian minister of finance, is: If you do not have a financial market or strong and dynamic banks and financial institutions, or foreign investments, then what need is there for a ministry of finance?

Thanks to Across the Bay for the pointing out this article.