Friday, February 17, 2006

News Round UP (February 17, 2006)

Rice wants the UN Security Council to sanction Syria for non-compliance with the Hariri investigation.

Rice told lawmakers she did not think Syria had cooperated with the U.N. investigation into Last February's murder of Rafik al-Hariri and something must be done about this.

"We will need, I really do believe, to go back to the Security Council at some time in the not-too-distant future to get a report on what is happening with Syrian cooperation," Rice told the House of Representatives International Relations Committee.
Khalid Mashaal visited Ankara this week on the invitation of the Turkish government. This will damage Turkey's relationship with Israel and destroy its reputation as an "honest broker," many analysts say. The fall out for the Turkish-Israeli relationship is analysed by WINEP's Soner Cagaptay, who explains that the Turkish invitation to a terror chief is "yet another foreign policy breech between Turkey and the West." By trying to develop “strategic depth” in its relations with Syria, Iran and the Palestinians, Turkey will sacrifice its hard won reputation in Washington and Tel Aviv.

Russia is also hosting Mashaal, much to the astonishment of the West. Jordan intends to follow suit. Marouf Bakheet, the prime minister of Jordan, which expelled Mashaal and other Hamas leaders in 1999, now says Jordan would welcome a visit by "a delegation of our brothers the leaders of Hamas."

Saudi ambassador: Assad 'basically agrees' with Lebanese demands

Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Prince Turki al-Faisal said that ongoing pressure on Assad will not cause the collapse of his regime; on the contrary, he said "the regime will survive despite the pressure."

Given this assessment, Prince Turki al-Faisal explained that Lebanon's refusal to come to terms with Syria threatened to return the country to "the bad old days." He criticized the Siniora government for being divided and incompetent in dealing with recent Saudi mediation efforts between Syria and Lebanon. According to al-Faisal, Siniora requested the Saudi mediation two months ago when the Hizbollah ministers walked out of the cabinet, but then was unable to prevent members of his own government from scuttling Saudi efforts when they accused the Kingdom of "bowing to the Syrians' wishes." Al-Faisal stressed that Saudi Arabia relinquished efforts after the kingdom was accused by some of "betraying Lebanon."

He insists that Syrian President Bashar Assad informed Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdel-Aziz and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak that he "basically agrees" to Lebanon's demands for "demarcating the Lebanese-Syrian border, promoting diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Syria and barring Syrian security interference in Lebanon."

Many of the Syrians detained during the Danish Embassy protest in Beirut were not at the demonstration, Amnesty International claims, explaining the high number of Syrian arrests mentioned in news reports.(Thanks to t_desco for this)
Lebanon: Detainees reportedly beaten and denied access to legal counsel

On 7 February, Lebanese media reports quoted the acting Interior Minister as stating that more than 400 people - 223 Lebanese, 138 Syrians, 47 Palestinians, seven Bedouins and one Sudanese - had been arrested in connection with the violence. Those detained included some 42 Syrian nationals who, according to information received by Amnesty International, were arrested by Lebanese police at an apartment building in Tariq Jdeide, four kilometers away from the Danish Embassy, some of them while the protests were still in progress. They were arrested, apparently, after another Syrian who resides at the same building, was arrested at the demonstration.

Upon arrest, the 42 Syrians are reported to have been taken first to the local police station and then to the Barbar Khazen prison in west Beirut, which the Internal Security Forces (ISF) control. They were held there for five days, during which they were denied access to legal counsel. Some were beaten by ISF interrogators in an apparent attempt to force "confessions" about their involvement in the protests. On 10 February, they were taken before a military court in Beirut, which ordered their release. More than 200 other people arrested in connection with the 5 February protests are also reported to have been brought before the Military Court in Beirut whose procedures fall short of international standards for fair trials - on 11 and 12 February, but the outcome is not known to Amnesty International.
Amnesty International

Lebanon's An-Nahar newspaper reports that the assets of the son of former Syrian Prime Minister Mustapha Miro had been seized in part of an anti-corruption campaign that could also be targeting the former premier himself. The Daily Star suggests Miro's prosecution is part of an ugly vendetta. Miro was know for his honesty and may be being punished because he was supported by Khaddam. Khaddam outflanked President Bashar in forming the Miro government in 2003. Is this payback?

President Asad lectured his new government yesterday about ways to thwart corruption. It should join the fight in cutting back on "routine," the catchall phrase in Syria for needless bureaucracy, form filling, and permission and signature gathering. "Routine" is the bane of every Syrian's existence. It allows underpaid government employees to salary boost by collecting "takramiyyas" for each useless and redundant signature. For example, several months ago I went to the main post office to pick up an innocuous academic journal. To assure its release, I had to get six signatures from three offices on two different floors of the building. It took me 45 minutes and cost me $2.50 for the permission slips and required stamps. The original price of the journal was $1.50.


At 2/17/2006 03:16:00 PM, Blogger Idaf said...

The Daily Star said: "Miro was known for his honesty"!!!!.. this is why I keep requesting that the Lebanese journalists go visit Syria and try to find the facts instead of relying on their set pretexts, profiles and worse.. on guessing or wishful thinking!

As all the people I know who come from Aleppo consider Miro (who was a mayor of their city for years during the last years of Hafez reign) the ultimate corruption idol. Many Aleppians I know told me endless stories back then about the "presents" and "partnership deals" him and his patronage network enforced on Aleppo's class of businessmen in the late nineties.
For all the skeptics and before JAM accuses me of digging dirt about Miro from my Mukhabrat boss, you can check this information yourself, ask any Aleppian who lived during Miros's years and he'll probably have a story or two about his corruption. It is true though that Khaddam did push Miro as a PM.

At 2/17/2006 03:25:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


Miro is the king of corruption. I can tell you this from personal experience. You do not have to check it with anyone.
On this occasion, you can take my word for it.

At 2/17/2006 04:03:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...


No Idaf, I am not going to argue with you about Miro, but in fact I want you to defend the contradictions you have put yourself in.

Miro was known for his corruption since he was the mair of Aleppo, so you said. Then, please please explain to us why Bashar assad chose him twice to lead the Syrian government? His first time was when that government was known to be his first and the personal choice of Bashar Assad in 2000, which followed the execution, suicide style of the previous Hafez Assad, Bashar's father's prime minister, also on corruption as well. Then, Miro was known at the time, and yet Bashar chose him not once, but twice as the PM. Anyway, what am I talking about!! Bashar himself belongs to his father and his family who owned nothing prior to 1970, and which rapidly became one of the richest families in the world, so who is to accuse who of corruption anyway??

Of course, Miro was corrupt, and for that main reason he was chosen to lead the government exactly as Zou'bi, exactly as Khadam, and exactly as all those that served in the Assad the father, or the son's government/

It is a pre-requisite for any position with Assad that the holder be corrupt, or available to be corrupt( does not mind becoming corrupt). Syria was never like this prior to Hafez Assad.

But Bashar Assad says to world dignitaries when they visit him in private: Look what I have to deal with. Every body I give my confidence to, is easily corruptable, dumb, or inapt. The Syrian people are not at my level, they are all bad, and what can I do when I don't have good people that can carry my ambitious plans??


That is your Bashar Assad.


At 2/17/2006 04:08:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...

Also, the daily Star is not the example of Lebanese Journalism. All I know is that that news paper is run by friends of your friend, Joshua Landis.

At 2/17/2006 05:06:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

"All I know is that that news paper is run by friends of your friend, Joshua Landis."

Friends who disagree on almost everything...

At 2/17/2006 07:33:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2/17/2006 07:37:00 PM, Blogger Atassi said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2/18/2006 04:12:00 AM, Blogger Idaf said...

Miro was one of Khaddam's people, he made him the mayor of Aleppo when Hafez was too week to rule. I'm not sure if Bashar made him an PM to please Khaddam, picked him intentionally or that it was Khaddam's call again. Given him being a part of Khadam's mafia, the latter option has more probability in my opinion. I don't think that Bashar was (always) taking the final decision on every high ranking post in the country. For example, Khaddam said in his Al-Arabiah interview that Gazi Kanaan suggested Ghazali as his replacement and that Bashar gave him that. I think that Miro was installed as an PM in the same way but this time it was based on Khaddam's suggestion. What I'm saying is that -as it's the case in every government formed in the world- the powerful players would share the posts. Syria is no different. Bashar installed some people, Kanaan some, Khaddam some and maybe Asef and Rami had some share of the pie too.. who knows! This scenario for example is maximized historically in Lebanon's governments, before, during and after Syrian presence.

On a different note, Al-Kifah el-Arabi has a
good round up of FDIs in Syria during 2005. Ehsani, appreciate your comments on the fact that foreign investments in Syria were at its best since 35 years while Syria had it worst political situation possible for the country during the same era! It seems to me that global investors are seeing real opportunities and are not bothered by Mehlis, Bush, Condi and Jumblat. It looks that they are seeing something that the pessimists among us are not seeing!

At 2/18/2006 06:22:00 AM, Blogger t_desco said...

I have to correct myself: the "Abu Obeida" whom Abu Adas had visited, according to the first Mehlis report, probably wasn't Badieh Hamadeh, but rather Sheikh Abu Obeida. The Mehlis report calls him both "deputy to the leader of Jund al Sham" and "deputy leader of the terrorist group Asbat al Ansar".

The Daily Star reported yesterday that "the Lebanese-Palestinian Follow-Up Committee" met recently with "Sheikh Abu Abeida, an official in Esbat al-Ansar, an outlawed Islamic fundamentalist group".
Clashes nearly erupt at Ain al-Hilweh

A report from February 12, 2004, also mentions a "Sheikh Abu Obeida, leader of the Ansar group".

If he is indeed the Abu Obeida of the Mehlis report, this has the great advantage that, in contrast to Badieh Hamadeh, he is still alive and can be questioned.

At 2/18/2006 08:17:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

"statements made earlier by a member of the Kadima Party, which is headed by Israeli acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that the party supports Jumblatt and is ready to offer him protection"

why would Kadima do this? if they are sincere, then it would be a horrible mistake to make such a declaration, because getting public support from israel is damaging. and i know the israelis are not stupid. so why would they do it? unless of course they are attempting to hurt is public image, and maybe send a "friendly" message to Damascus???
or am i reading too much into this

At 2/18/2006 08:57:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2/18/2006 09:03:00 AM, Blogger pierre54 said...

? unless of course they are attempting to hurt is public image, and maybe send a "friendly" message to Damascus???

It's obvious.

At 2/18/2006 09:41:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

Idaf. You ask an important question. My answer is going to be long as I think this is a very important issue.

You are absolutely right. Let me start by including myself amongst the group of people who have participated in this FDI number. Why did I decide to invest in Syria this year in spite of the worst political situation in 35 years?

1- Since 09/11, Gulf investors and Arabs in general do not feel comfortable investing their funds in the U.S. or the western banking sector in general. This has resulted in increased investments in the local economies. As a result, local equity markets booms and so did real estate prices. First it was the GCC countries, and then it was Jordan (due mainly to Iraqi capital). Contrary to conventional opinion, Iraq itself has experienced a massive boom in its real estate prices since the U.S. invasion. There are reports of house prices that have risen by seven-fold since Saddam’s downfall. The other critical factor is demographics of course. The region has 50% of its population under the age of 18. This is a massive wave of future growth that needs to be tapped. In effect, therefore, the “macro” situation is extremely favorable in the region surrounding Syria. Lebanon itself has seen continued investments since the death of Hariri. As the U.S. has become more involved in the country (a new $100 mm embassy is being built), gulf investors in particular, feel that it has become even more attractive to build and invest there. Lebanon’s real estate prices have risen dramatically as a result and are presently at multiples of what they are in Syria. This brings us to Syria.
2- Most investors have shunned Syria for years, and for very good reasons. Capital has a strong nose for profits and return. It correctly did not get attracted to Syria’s Baath. Given the regional boom discussed above, the discrepancy between real estate prices in Syria and that of its neighbors has grown dramatically. In the mean time, the Baath party’s hold on power has been shaken. Either the party has to reform itself dramatically or it is going to fall. In my opinion, there is no third probability. What capital has sensed therefore is that things have hit bottom and that given the low prices of real estate relative to neighboring countries, it is better not to miss the opportunity of buying assets on the cheap. As one Saudi investor told me a week after the Hariri murder: “This is the best time to buy in Syria. If you don’t pick up assets on the cheap, you are going to look back and regret not having done so”. Syria is a country with massive potential. When and if the Baath party is removed from power, this country will experience a massive boom. Even though prices have indeed risen nicely over the past one-year, they still pale in comparison with our neighbors. I predict significant further increases. All you have to do is go down to the Syrian coast and compare property prices there with their equivalents in Lebanon and Turkey. Please note that Syria only has 800 so-called 5-star beds in Lattakia and the coast. This is for a population of 20 million people. It is shockingly inadequate. There is no question that there are massive opportunities for growth in this area. Gulf investors have done just that by snapping up land on the coast and many other places for that matter. They are doing this helped by Mr. Makhlouf and others who are encouraging them to buy at seemingly crazy prices. Few laws have to be changed in the interim before their investments yield super returns. My suspicion is that these laws will indeed be coming out soon. Mr. Makhlouf has a particularly good nose and track record in this area.

In sum, capital is coming into Syria for multiples of reasons. I, personally, have participated in investing in the country after having refrained from doing so for years. Did I do so because I believe in Bashar or the Baath? The answer is a resounding NO. I invested because I think the prices are very cheap relative to others in the region. The regime, in my calculation, will either have to change or fall from power. The old crazy ways of the Baath party will have to go. Capital smells “better” days. Every investment has risks. At these prices, the risks of losing in a lot in Syria are relatively small. Should the country change dramatically, the returns are huge on the other hand. A simple risk-reward calculation is what many investors are doing before concluding that this is the right time to invest. This is by no means an endorsement of Bashar or the Baath party. Indeed, it is an endorsement of the fact that things are at or close to hitting bottom. Few countries on earth have performed so much below their potential as has been the case in Syria for the past 43 years. Thanks to the Americans next door, the international pressure and the related calls for reform from the inside, capital has correctly concluded that the old status quo can longer survive for long. Let is say Amen to that.

At 2/18/2006 10:34:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

i just recieved the Syria-Report newsletter and here is an interesting note

Syrian industry fares bad in UNIDO index
The latest release by UNIDO of the Comparative Industrial Performance (CIP) index for the year 2004, shows that the Syrian economy ranks 121 out of 155 countries

you can read more here

At 2/18/2006 10:44:00 AM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

"Syria is a country with massive potential. When and if the Baath party is removed from power, this country will experience a massive boom. "

I agree with that.

At 2/18/2006 11:05:00 AM, Blogger ForFreedomOfExpression said...

At 2/18/2006 11:10:00 AM, Blogger Idaf said...

Thank you for your well-rounded answer. I have few comments though:

1-You mainly based your thorough answer on the view of real estate investors. The report in Al-Kifah Al-Arabi clearly mentions that the investments in the real estate sector in Syria were only 4 projects from the 558 investment projects (of around 7+ billions$) announced in 2005. Almost half of the projects (237 projects) are industrial ones. One of them is building the largest sugar manufacturing plant in the middle east.
Correct me if I'm wrong Ehsani, but I understand that industrial investments are more hesitate to come to unstable markets. For example if you're going to invest in real estate, the risk of war or regime change is no where as risky as building a regional manufacturing/industrial plant with a turnover that would require years.

2-The 9/11 atrocities happened almost 5 years ago and the prices of oil has been increasing dramatically since 2003, but the gulf investments just decided to come to Syria mainly during the last 6-8 months (plus Chinese and German ones). Shunning the US demands to "isolate" Syria.

3-If I understood your comments correctly, you're trying to say that the regime was mainly lucky to receive these investments during the current turmoil in the Syrian political arena. I in the other hand think that the investors are seeing an opportunity as you rightly mentioned, but I also think that they are seeing a genuine reform processes being implemented that would make their investments even more compelling and less risky in the long run. Note that most of the major real estate FDIs are planned to span 8-10 years (they were not included in the figures above), such as Emaar, and the other 15 B$ being discussed in the parliament.

My main conclusion is, basically, if the global investors are seeing that things are getting better in Syria, my argument that Syrians inside Syria are seeing relative improvements in their daily lives is very well founded and that this is translated into support for the regime inside Syria (an argument many Syrians abroad don't agree with).

Allow me to make the following observation too: The overwhelming majority of the investments that came to Syria last year were in the second part of 2005, just after the withdrawal out of Lebanon, Bashar's visit to Russia and the Syria becoming one of the few debtless states, the Baath party congress and the ousting of Khaddam. Coincidence? Might be.. but a very interesting one! Mehlis reports and the US accusations and pressures for "isolation" did not have any considerable effect.

Baath or no Baath, American or no Americans, it seems that investors are sesing improvements and a potentially huge returns regardless of whose in charge and how democratic he is.. it would be all nicer of course without a Baath in Damascus or Americans next door!

Innocent Criminal,
It might be that the Israelis are sending a friendly message to Bashar, but then again they might be too overwhelmed by the service that Jumblat is providing them, by throwing all his gauntlet against Hizballah and his flux of curses against Syria. They are after all humans! This also came from a political party not the Israeli government mind you, so it's not state policy.

If I was an Israeli, I would be soaked with tears of joy listening to Jumblat's curses to Syria during the rally few days ago.. and more importantly, by his relentless hunt after Hizballah!

Also, don't forget that historically, the Israeli politicians and parties committed lots of such mistakes earlier. The latest was their campaign of accusations to Syria of killing Hariri just after he was killed. The Israeli government back then ordered the officials (and "begged" the Israeli media) to refrain from the campaign against Syria as it would have a counter effect on the "cedar revolution" which was very well going in line with their 15-years-old demands of getting Syria out of Lebanon and dismantling of Hizballah.

On the other hand, one should also consider the surge of blind hatred to Syria/Syrians that a large part of the Lebanese public have been manipulated to exercise by their sectarian Zai'ms for a year now. It's apparent that it's so blinding that they don't care anymore if their actions are serving Israel, hurting the ordinary Palestinians or even hurting the Lebanese national interests as long as it would hurt Syria.

I bet though that you won't hear more of such public offers to Jumblat after this moment (they would be made behind closed doors instead) as Israeli analysts would recommend them to end. I can imagine though the feelings of Israelis listening to Jumblat cursing Hizballah and Syria with the sheers of thousands of revenge-thirsty Lebanese. if I was an Israeli I would not be able to control myself from joy.

It's interesting though that Jumblat did not comment on that offer of "protection" in any of his "let's-curse-Syria" daily show on Future TV news.

At 2/18/2006 11:29:00 AM, Blogger Innocent_Criminal said...

He did comment its in the daily star

At 2/18/2006 11:34:00 AM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

1- There is no question that there are industrial plants that are being built as well investments destined to the real estate sector. You have to understand thought that all the numbers you cite are just “plans” at this stage. They are yet to start. Again, they are based on potential reward, which is indeed very attractive. This is true for industrial as well as real estate.
2- Ironically, it was the killing of Hariri, and the increased pressure on the regime, that has triggered the wave of potential investors. Why? Because they sense that the pressure on the regime will force it to either change or reform.
3- The regime was not lucky. The regime is changing slowly. It has realized that it needs to reform. But the improvement is relative. When you are at rock bottom, any change can look good. In absolute terms, however, the reforms are woefully inadequate when compared to where the country ought to be relative to its potential.
4- Contrary to what you suggest, were the Baath to fall from power, the country will boom economically. The standards of living pale in comparison to others around, and certainly relative to where they should be. Market based economics is a prerequisite for economic prosperity. The Baath does not want to admit this, though they know it. They are hence incapable of unleashing the potential for this country. None of all of this would have taken place without the American next door. Saddam and his sons would still be there. Syria would still occupy Lebanon. Bashar would have seen zero reason to reform. Now the genie is out of the bottle. Changes are taking place at breathtaking speed. Thankfully, this wave seems to have reached Syria as well.


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