Saturday, April 02, 2005

Travel to the Syrian Coast

I traveled up north over the past four days to Latakia and the Coastal Mountains, or Alawite Mountains as they used to be called, which kept me from posting. One of the main purposes of the visit was to slaughter a sheep in the name of my little son, Sha`baan (1 year and 3 months). He was sick for a bit and my mother-in-law, Umm Firas, promised to sacrifice a sheep in his name if he got better. He did get better, and this Wednesday we offered up a 57 kilo sheep in my father-in-law's village of Bayt al-Murj, or bayt al-Qash`aur as it is also called (only Qash`aur's live there - about 15 houses – just below Qadmous). We ate mishwi until we collapsed and distributed lamb meat far and wide. The gods and little Sha`baan are now at one.

Traveling along the coast and in the mountain region reminds one how vibrant and beautiful Syria is during the spring. Everything was in full bloom and beautifully green. The Acacia trees were bright yellow all along the roads. Red poppies speckled the fields, which were full of young wheat, lentils and cucumber. Everywhere there were plastic greenhouses filled with tomato, cucumber, green pepper and eggplants. It is truly something to see the number “plastic houses” that farmers have constructed to supply the bounty of fresh vegetables that is available during the winter months here.

In the mountains, agriculture is also thriving. Driving along the breathtaking gorges and mountain peeks from Misyaf to Qadmous one sees not only the older generation of terraces filled with olive orchards and wheat, but many new terraces being built. The introduction of tractors and bulldozers makes it much easier to terrace the hillsides today, and much new terracing is being added. Fortunately, the beautiful stonework is still being maintained and added in most places. Surprisingly, at this time of year many of the mountain farms are planted with wheat. It wouldn’t seem to be an economical crop in the mountains, but the state pays $250 a ton for wheat, even though the going price of Italian wheat is $140 a ton. Young tobacco plants are also being cultivated in preparation for transplanting them in the terraces. Tobacco is another subsidized crop that provides a stable income to the farms of the coastal mountains.

Aside from intensive farming, there is a building boom. Everywhere one goes, new apartment blocs are being constructed. Driving along the seacoast, one can’t avoid noticing the explosion of new villas, chalets, and apartments. In the cities, large cranes dot the landscape, but on most of the 4 and 5 story apartment buildings all the materials are still hoisted up by electric or hand powered pullies. New wealth is clearly visible in the growing number of apartments that are covered with the white and tan stone quarried around Aleppo. It is beautifully cut, and in the more wealthy neighborhoods, this new clothing is completely replacing the older drab concrete of the normal apartment blocks. Many finely milled, decorative embellishments, balcony balustrades, and window and door casements add character and luxury to the new architecture. A fine example of this sort of fancy architecture is the house of Wahib Mira`i in Latakia. He is the chief iron importer of Syria and has decorated his magnificent house with elaborate ironwork as well as Aleppo-style stonework.

Perhaps the most beautiful examples of this new architecture and use of highly skilled artisanry can be seen in the houses of the Joud brothers, the most well-known of whom is Subhi Joud. The Joud family made their initial money importing bananas, when they were first introduced in Syria. Now the Joud factories include food products of many kinds; most famous is the soft drink factory. Their houses on Cornich al-Janoubi and in Mashrou`a al-Slaybi, constructed from white Aleppo stone and decorated with Italian marble and fine mettle work, are the most beautiful of Latakia. What is more, their money is believed to be “halal” or made honestly through hard work and enterprise.

Other standout houses of the coast belong to titans of the regime, past and present. Going north from Tartus, the first of these houses one sees, perched on top of the mountain ridge overlooking the sea, is that of Ali Douba, who was the leading intelligence chief under Hafiz al-Asad. His was one of the first grand houses built along the coast some 20 years ago. It dominates his home town of Qirfays between Tartous and Banyas.

Abdul Halim Khaddam, the Vice President, has build a complex of three houses on a point jutting out into the Mediterranean that overlooks the port of Banyas. Two of the handsome buildings belong to his sons who also made fortunes in Lebanon.

Another house belonging to regime grandees is that shared by Fawaz and Munzir al-Asad. They are sons of Hafiz al-Asad’s brother, Jamil, who for a time in the 1980s presented himself as the Mahdi al-Muntazir. (Among Shiites, the Mahdi is supposed to return to earth at some future date, bringing justice and light. Many Iranians believed that Ayatollah Khomeini would turn out to be the Mahdi al-Muntazir during the 1980s.) Hafiz had to send Jamil to France for a cooling-off period to dampen his religious pretenses. The fact that the Asad brothers keep a black and yellow pair of Hummers parked in front of their apartment building, in which they each have a duplex, is the cause of considerable eyebrow raising and humor among Latakians. For a while in the 1990s they closed off the street in front of their building in order to join their front yard with the park across the street, causing havoc to local traffic patterns and sensibilities. Before he became president, Bashar put an end to this display of power and disorder by errant family members. In fact Bashar and his late brother Basil are largely responsible for introducing law-and-order to Latakia during the 1990s. Before their personal intervention on the side of the local governor, the notorious “Shabiha,” or regime toughs, ran roughshod over the town, extorting money from local merchants and frightening town beauties from the streets. (See my article on “Reform in Syria” for further details on this.)

Despite the wealth evident along the coast and new architectural styles established by the rich, poverty is still plenty evident, although not nearly as widespread or dire as it is in the East or “badia,” the semi-arid regions of the interior. Amidst the prosperous farming regions, one still sees the tents of Bedouin and migrant farm laborers that are stitched out of burlap bags and plastic sheeting. One of the lingering side affects of poverty and the bad civic habits that stems from it is the garbage. Refuse is everywhere along the roads and fills unused patches of land both in the countryside and particularly near the towns. Plastic bags are the real blight of Syria. Blown by the wind, they cling to every cactus plant and bush. In the desert areas to the east of the Damascus-Aleppo road, the landscape is blighted by the plastic bag. The greenery of the coast, particularly during the spring months, hides the refuse behind its rich and happy display of natural prosperity.

I have not mentioned politics in this short piece. I will hopefully get a chance soon to review the political views of people I met during my trip.

Here are a few articles of interest. The following article, which was kindly sent to me by the author, fills in some of the blanks about the most powerful people that surround the President. It asks who really governs Syria.

Mais qui gouverne à Damas ?
Subhi Hadidi
Afrique Asie - N° 187 - AVRIL 2005

Le retrait des troupes syriennes du Liban aura-t-elle des répercussions directes sur la cohésion ou la survie du régime à Damas ? Près de cinq ans après la disparition du machiavélique Hafez al-Assad, ses héritiers semblent incapables de gérer la succession. De quels héritiers s'agit-il ? Bachar al-Assad est-il le vrai détenteur du pouvoir ?

Joe Klein rapporte qu'avant de réaliser son entretien avec le président syrien Bachar al-Assad, paru dans l’hebdomadaire américain Time, en janvier 2005, il avait rencontré quelques opposants syriens pour se faire une idée du paysage politique dans le pays. Parmi ces opposants, il y avait le médecin Kamal Labouani, l’un des onze animateurs de la société civile qui furent condamnés à des peines de prison pour leur engagement politique lors de ce qui fut appelé alors le "printemps de Damas". Le docteur Labouani saisit l'occasion pour demander à M. Klein d’interroger le président Bachar sur les raisons qui l’avaient amené à ordonner son incarcération. Une demande que le journaliste transmettra à son tour au président lors de son interview. "Ce n’est pas moi qui l’ai mis en prison. Ce n’est pas moi qui fais tout dans ce pays !" lui répondra le président sans broncher!

Dernièrement, l’agence Associated Press, citant des responsables saoudiens qui ont tenu à garder l’anonymat, rapporta que le président syrien Assad avait confié au prince héritier saoudien Abdallah Bin Abdelaziz, qui le sommait de retirer ses forces du Liban au plus vite : "Je ne décide pas tout tout seul". Dans la semaine qui a suivi l’assassinat de Rafic Hariri, plusieurs sources officielles syriennes, dont le ministre de l’Information en personne, ont démenti les propos que le président avait tenu lors de sa rencontre avec le secrétaire général de la Ligue des Etats arabes, M. Amr Moussa, et au cours d’interviews accordés au quotidien italien La Republica et l’hebdomadaire américain Time.

Mais qui a donc jeté le Dr. Labouani en prison? A qui donc le président syrien doit-il en référer avant de prendre ses décisions? Et qui se permet de rectifier les déclarations du président et qui, il y a près de deux ans, a censuré la moitié de son interview au quotidien américain New York Times? Une seule question les résume toutes et n’a cessé d’être posée depuis que Bachar avait hérité de la présidence à la mort de son père en juin 2000 : gouverne-t-il réellement la Syrie? Et s’il n’est pas le détenteur réel du pouvoir – ou comme il le dit lui-même, il ne décide pas de tout tout seul –, qui sont ceux qui décident avec lui ou à sa place? Plus précisément, qui sont les vrais décideurs syriens? Comment les décisions sont-elles préparées, prises et mises à exécution? De quel côté le rapport de forces penche-t-il?

Pour répondre à cette question, prenons le dernier cas de figure, à savoir l’élimination de l’ancien Premier ministre libanais Rafic Hariri. Si l’hypothèse selon laquelle le régime syrien a commandité cet assassinat se confirme, quels sont les décideurs syriens qui ont pris une telle décision ? Les rumeurs en provenance de Damas laissent penser que cette question a été discutée et tranchée au sein du cercle des "six décideurs", qui comprend, outre le président Bachar lui-même, les cinq personnalités les plus influentes du pouvoir.

D'abord, Maher al-Assad (37 ans). Le frère cadet de Bachar est le véritable commandant des brigades de la garde républicaine, un corps d’armée bien entraîné et bien équipé, dont la mission ne se limite pas à assurer la protection du palais présidentiel, mais se déploie aussi autour de la capitale et l’encercle pratiquement tout en surveillant de près tout mouvement sécuritaire et militaire dans ce périmètre. Si la plupart des analyses mettent en évidence la nervosité et les sautes d’humeur du personnage – en octobre 2000, par exemple, des informations avaient couru qu’il aurait tiré sur son beau-frère Assef Shawkat car il n’avait pas supporté que ce dernier parle de son oncle Rifa’at, exilé en Europe, d’une façon insultante –, d’autres analyses fiables révèlent qu’il assume des missions spéciales et sensibles, comme la rencontre secrète que, selon le quotidien israélien Maariv, il aurait eue à Amman avec un émissaire israélien, Eytan Bentsour, quelques semaines avant l’invasion américaine de l’Irak.

Ensuite, le général Ghazi Kana’an (63 ans). Actuel ministre de l’Intérieur, il a occupé sans discontinuer durant dix-neuf ans le poste de chef des renseignements militaires au Liban. Il passe probablement aujourd’hui pour l’homme le plus puissant en Syrie au niveau des services de sécurité. Ayant gagné la confiance de l’ancien président Hafez al-Assad, il a étroitement travaillé avec lui, ce qu’il lui a donné une expérience politique qui fait défaut aux autres officiers du renseignement actuellement en poste. C’est ce qui explique sans doute le fait que le président Bachar lui ait confié la mission de regrouper les divers centres de décision dans le domaine de la sécurité et du renseignement afin d’améliorer la coordination entre des services autonomes. En 2001, après son rappel du Liban, le général Kana’an est nommé chef de la sécurité politique, où son emprise s’étendait progressivement sur les autres services, avant qu'il ne quitte ce poste pour être nommé ministre de l’Intérieur (sur, dit-on, des recommandations américaines). S’il est vrai que le général Kana’an s’est imposé dans la période passée comme l’un des plus puissants chefs des services de sécurité syriens, il est peu probable qu'il le reste après la nomination à la tête de la sécurité militaire d’une forte personnalité comme le général Assef Chawkat, d’autant que ce dernier, outre le fait de son alliance avec la famille Assad, est peu enclin à se soumettre aux ordres du général Kana’an.

Ensuite, le général Assef Chawkat (55 ans), époux de Bouchra Assad, sœur de Bachar et fille unique de Hafez al-Assad. L’irruption de ce militaire dans le cercle familial est la suite d'une banale histoire d’amour : Bouchra tomba amoureuse de lui et accepta, malgré l’opposition du père, de devenir sa seconde épouse. Elle s’exclut de la famille pour un certain temps avant que son père ne passe l’éponge et accepte de la rappeler, avec son mari, à ses côtés. Cet arrangement n’était cependant pas du goût de ses deux frères, Maher et Bachar. Pendant cinq ans, le successeur de Hafez al-Assad refusa de lui confier le poste de chef des renseignements militaires qu’il réclamait, préférant le nommer à la tête des renseignements de l’armée de l’air, poste qu’il refusa avec dédain, soutenu en cela par Bouchra. Il y a quelques mois, et alors que des responsables de l’administration Bush haussaient le ton face à la prétendue impuissance du régime syrien à contrôler les frontières avec l’Irak, Washington aurait souhaité voir Damas confier ce dossier à Assef Chawkat. C’est à la lumière de ces informations que certains analystes ont vu dans la nomination de ce général à la tête des renseignements militaires la réponse à un souhait américain.

Ensuite, le général Bahjat Soulaymane (61 ans). Chef de la section 251 des services de renseignements généraux et personnalité la plus puissante dans cet appareil, il jouit de prérogatives et de pouvoirs qui dépassent de loin ceux du chef de cet appareil, le général Hicham Bakhtiar. La place privilégiée qu’occupe le général Soulaymane dans le cercle étroit qui entoure Bachar est due à trois raisons. Il est le parrain et le théoricien du nouveau régime de république héréditaire actuellement en place. Il fut en effet le premier à réclamer publiquement à ce que Bassel al-Assad, le fils aîné de l’ancien président succède, le moment venu, à son père alors malade. Mais quand Bassel trouva la mort subitement dans un accident de voiture en 1994, il revient alors à la charge et propose Bachar comme héritier. Ce qui fut fait à la mort du père. La deuxième raison est le rôle que joue ce général dans l’embrigadement des intellectuels, des artistes et des écrivains au service du régime. A ce titre, il a réussi à apprivoiser certains d’entre eux, à noyauter les associations de la société civile avant de les casser, n’hésitant pas à alterner le bâton et la carotte pour les mettre au pas et mettre en échec toute véritable velléité démocratique. La troisième raison est le culot avec lequel ce militaire exprime, parfois par des articles parus dans la presse libanaise, signés de son nom ou avec des pseudonymes, la vraie position du régime sur des questions décisives, mais non dites. Ainsi, en 2003, il signe un article dans le quotidien libanais As-Safir, dans lequel il met en garde contre un "tremblement de terre démographique" au Liban, au cas où les forces syriennes s’en retireraient.

Enfin, Abdelhalim Khaddam (73 ans), vice-président et l’un des principaux compagnons de route de Hafez al-Assad encore au pouvoir. Son importance réside d’une part dans le fait qu’il est la seule personnalité sunnite dans le "cercle des six", et d’autre part dans sa grande expérience en politique étrangère. C’est enfin grâce à lui qu’une véritable crise a pu être évitée entre la majorité sunnite du pays et la minorité alaouite, quand, à la mort de Hafez al-Assad, il a accepté de ne plus revendiquer son droit constitutionnel d’être le président intérimaire et de s’effacer devant Bachar. A ce propos, s’il s’avère que le régime est divisé entre nouvelle et vieille garde, il ne fait pas de doute que c’est Khaddam qui dirige la vieille garde, politiquement, idéologiquement et au sein du parti Baas. C’est lui qui a poussé le plus pour faire avorter le "printemps de Damas", notamment avec le discours incendiaire qu’il avait prononcé à l’université de Damas et dans lequel il mettait en garde contre l’"algérianisation" de la Syrie.

La liste des décideurs ne se limite pas, loin s’en faut, aux seuls membres du cercle des six. Nombreuses sont en effet les personnalités qui jouent un rôle important dans le système sans occuper des postes de responsabilité. C’est le cas de Mohammad Makhlouf, l’oncle du président, le "sage" du clan au pouvoir, qui exerce une influence morale considérable sur les membres de la famille Assad. Mais son rôle n’est pas que moral. Il est en effet l’incarnation de l’affairisme de haut niveau, qui dispose de surcroît d'un talent réel à fédérer les intérêts des hauts gradés de l’armée et des services et ceux des grands barons du pillage, de la corruption et des affaires louches. Son fils légendaire, Rami, est son bras droit dans la finance et les affaires. A la tête d’une pléthore de sociétés d’investissement, ce dernier est l’un des hommes d’affaires les plus connus en Syrie aujourd’hui.

Dans le même registre, il convient d’ajouter le nom du général Zoul Himma Chaliche, cousin du président et escorteur personnel. Le Los Angeles Times avait écrit à son propos, le 30 décembre 2003, qu’il possédait avec son neveu Assef Issa Chaliche une société qui a exporté illégalement vers l’Irak de Saddam Hussein des dizaines de millions de dollars d’équipement militaire. La sœur de Bachar, Bochra, joue également, à travers son mari, Assef Chawkat, sa forte personnalité et ses vastes réseaux de relations, un rôle important dans la vie politique. Une autre femme, Asma al-Akhras, l’épouse de Bachar, jouit également d’une certaine influence dans le cercle des décideurs. Diplômée en économie de King’s College à Londres, elle avait rencontré Bachar alors que ce dernier poursuivait des études d’ophtalmologie en Grande-Bretagne. La particularité d’Asma est qu’elle est issue d’une famille sunnite de Homs qui a donné à la Syrie de nombreux chefs d’Etat au cours du XXe siècle. Influencée par les idées libérales en économie, elle s’est employée à convertir son mari à une certaine forme de libéralisme, surtout après sa visite d’Etat en Grande-Bretagne en 2003. Elle a cependant vite baissé les bras, estimant d’une part que son influence au sein de la famille Assad ne lui permet pas de peser lourd dans les décisions et d’autre part parce que son père s’est joint, à son tour, au club des affairistes.

En dehors du cercle familial étroit ou élargi, un nouveau nom commence à monter dans le ciel du pouvoir, celui du général Mohammad Mansoura (55 ans), à qui le président Bachar vient de confier le commandement de la sécurité politique, poste détenu jusqu’ici par le général Ghazi Kana’an. Ayant été le principal responsable des questions du renseignement et de la police politique dans la région ultrasensible d’Al-Jaziré, frontalière de l’Irak et de la Turquie, il a acquis une longue expérience dans ce domaine. Il avait aussi gagné la confiance de l’ancien président Hafez al-Assad, qui l'avait chargé des dossiers explosifs visant à armer les Kurdes antiturcs et anti-irakiens, à organiser des opérations spéciales contre le régime de Saddam Hussein et à établir des relations avec Abdallah Ocalan, le chef kurde antiturc du PKK.

Après ce survol, la question qui s’impose aujourd’hui est de savoir si ce groupe de décideurs, ou plus précisément le cercle des six, est assez solide et compact pour faire face aux épreuves à venir. C’est en tout cas ce que les développements dans les mois qui viennent ne manqueront pas de mettre en évidence, avec l’aggravation de la crise du régime, la perte de la carte libanaise et l’exaspération des antagonismes au sommet de l’Etat. A ce propos, et selon les dernières rumeurs qui circulent à Damas, il semblerait que Ghazi Kana’an et Abdelhalim Khaddam avaient voté contre l’élimination de Hariri, alors que Assef Shawkat, Maher al-Assad et Bahjat Soulaymane avaient voté pour. Quant au président Bachar, les rumeurs l’ignorent complètement et ne daignent même pas signaler s’il s’était abstenu ou pas!…

Another good article with more than the usual banter about the Golan is:

Golan elephant and the Lebanese crisis
By Ashraf Fahim, Asia Times, March 31, 2005

At the center of the ongoing crisis surrounding the Syrian presence in Lebanon, a 38-year-old elephant has been loitering almost unnoticed. While the world scrutinizes Syria's promised withdrawal, gawks as the Lebanese opposition and Hezbollah flood the streets of Beirut in their war of demonstrations, and debates whether the Bush administration deserves credit for inspiring the "cedar revolution", little attention has been given to a principal factor binding this Levantine Gordian knot - the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan heights.

Though not as glamorous as the more polarizing Israeli occupations in the West Bank and Gaza, Golan is of immense importance because it is the last tangible redoubt of Syrian-Israeli enmity and the physical embodiment of their 57-year ideological and territorial conflict. With Golan quiet since the armistice agreement of 1974 (established after the 1973 "October" War), Lebanon has long been the proving ground for the Levant's principal antagonists. [complete article]

Syria moves to keep control of Lebanon
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, March 31, 2005
Syria is working covertly through a network of Lebanese operatives to ensure Damascus can still dominate its smaller neighbor even after it withdraws the last of 15,000 troops, in defiance of a U.N. resolution demanding an end to Syria's 29-year control over Lebanon, according to U.S., European and U.N. officials, and Lebanon's opposition.

Although Syria shut down its notorious intelligence headquarters in downtown Beirut, Damascus is establishing a new hidden presence in the capital's southern suburbs, bringing in officials who will not be recognized, say Lebanese opposition and Western sources. The move would contradict a pledge by President Bashar Assad to withdraw Syria's large intelligence operation from the Lebanese capital as of today...

"Syrian influence has permeated most facets of economic, political and social life here with even senior civil positions having to be cleared from Damascus. Of course topping them all is their intimate relationships with all Lebanese security agencies. Now that the Syrians are withdrawing, to expect that intimate relationship to wither away would be plain naivete," said Timur Goksel, a long-serving former U.N. adviser in Lebanon now teaching at American University of Beirut. [complete article]

In Beirut, chaos is building
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, March 30, 2005

No one is really laughing out loud, quite. The death count is already too high for that, and the clowns have still got guns and bombs, wiretaps and torture rooms. But there is, still, something grimly ludicrous about the disarray of Lebanon's secret police and security services right now. As one of my good friends in Beirut puts it, "We are seeing the collapse of this regime in a very embarrassing, very clumsy, almost comical way -- but it's scary. You're just sitting here watching the whole thing come apart."

The headlines of the last few days and hours are symptomatic of the chaos building beneath the surface. Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami, unable to form a new government, will resign again, maybe. Syria has notified the United Nations in a formal letter that after 29 years it will withdraw its troops from Lebanon "before the coming elections." But nobody's sure just when that is. Theoretically the elections will take place before the Lebanese parliament's term expires on May 31, but they could be stalled. Just four days ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told a bunch of Spanish journalists that even if a timetable is announced next week, the final troop withdrawal "requires several months." [complete article]

Syrian Strategy in Lebanon
By Robert G. Rabil, March 28, 2005

As Syrian troops continue to withdraw from parts of Lebanon, three bomb attacks have occurred within eight days in predominantly Christian areas: a March 19 car bomb wrecked the front of a building in New Jdeideh, wounding nine; a March 22 bomb ripped through an elite shopping center in Kaslik, killing three; and a March 26 car bomb in the industrial sector of Sadd el-Bouchrieh wounded five and destroyed several buildings. Many Lebanese see the bombings as an attempt by Syria and its loyalists to derail the growing movement for democracy and independence in Lebanon, while at the same time deepening fears of renewed sectarian conflict....

Damascus will most likely try to fragment the opposition by employing a combination of terror, appeasement, and Arab intercession. Its first objective will be to drive a wedge between the two historic Mount Lebanon political communities, the Druze and the Maronites, who form the core of the opposition and who are led respectively by Walid Jumblatt and Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir. Syria will play on the differences and concerns of these two communities, which revolve around Druze pan-Arab sentiments and Maronite pro-U.S. sentiments.

This article on "Following the old money trail" was brought to my attention by Ghassan, one of Syria Comment's readers. It is an interesting story about the collapse of al-Madina Bank in Lebanon two years ago. The article claims that "the Al-Madina bank scandal is a major embarrassment for both governments, providing a rare glimpse inside the corrupt profiteering long understood to be a by-product of Syria's 30-year occupation of Lebanon."

In all fairness to the intelligence and acuity of the Lebanese, it must be said that one thing they did not have to learn from their neighbors is sharp business practice or corruption. My father was the head of City Bank in Lebanon for much of the 1960s. Before that he opened the first branch of an American bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1958. When I once asked what the difference was between banking in Saudi and Lebanon, He explained that in Saudi he never had a bad lone. If the bank had trouble collecting from a client, he would just go visit the father, uncle or brother of the wayward borrower. Within weeks the family would move to preserve its reputation and make good on the loan.

Lebanon was a different story. It was a land of excitement as well as shady practice. Many loans turned out to be uncollectible. My father watched the Intra Bank, a Palestinian owned firm and one of the biggest in Lebanon, crash in the mid-1960s because of bad banking practices and faulty loans. In 1967, he quit the bank, in part because his career was damaged by one of his dearest friends and colleagues in Lebanon, who, it turned out, managed to siphon off several million dollars from under his nose over many years without anyone detecting it. Despite the unhappy ending, we all loved Lebanon and the Lebanese. In four days my father will come to visit and we will drive over the mountains to visit some of his old friends and have fun.

No doubt, Syria has kept Lebanon from correcting its corruption problems, perhaps it has even been a good student, but invent them? I shouldn't think so.


At 4/02/2005 11:58:00 AM, Anonymous Fred said...

You may not have commented on politics, but what you wrote about economics was shocking enough. Who is paying the price of the scenic Alawi northern agriculture and masonry? $250 a ton for mountain grown wheat the country can buy for $140?!? The slum dwellers Damascus, Homs, Hama and Halab, that's who. How can an poor country afford to pay 56% more than it needs to for low-quality wheat and beautiful mansions. Only by oppressing and impoverishing its people. But at least it looks nice.

At 4/02/2005 02:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fred, Do you have a mild comprehension of economics? Subsidizing your producers ensures they have a reutrn and continue to develop their skill. They obviously cant achieve economies of scale similar to those in other nations but by doing this, they continue to provide jobs for locals and returns on purchases remain in the country instead of being outflown.

Yes its not efficent but other countries (US with steel and fruits) (Europe with Airbus and Fruits) also do it. And who pays for it? The poor slum dwellers at skid row, South Central (Los Angeles) the Rust Belt etc...

Just because you are anti-syrian, doesnt mean you must ignore the same situation present in "democratic" and economically strong nations.

At 4/02/2005 03:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are some inaccuracies in the Afrique Asie article. Firstly, the person really opposed to Bushra's marriage to Assef Shawkat was Bassel Assad, not his father Hafez, nor his brothers Bashar and Maher. It was on the death of Hafez Assad that Assef Shawkat made his real entry on the power scene, since Bassel was out of the way.

The incident between Assef and Maher is true, but happened much later.

Secondly, Bahjat Suleiman cannot take the credit (or rather the blame) for the idea of succession. Anyone who knows Syria knows that there was never a question about the fact that Hafez's eldest son would inherit power, nor that the second son would replace Bassel when the latter died. Bahjat Suleiman is just one of many mouthpieces. He was, however, quite instrumental in Bashar's "education" when he came back to Syria in 1994 after Bassel's death (as was Manaf Tlass).

Likewise, Abdel Halim Khaddam was the most prominent mouthpiece of the regime when the Damascus Spring was so abruptly contained. The incident in Damascus University, which the writer doesn't mention, happened with young Baathists - and when the regime felt that even the younger echelons of the Baath were starting to demand reform in their own party, they really got worried.

Khaddam was opposed to the whole handling of the Lebanon file since it was taken from him. Way before Hariri's assassination, Khaddam was furious when Lahoud's term was extended, because he understood how dangerous (and stupid) that was.

Therefore, those who blame the so-called old guard for the mess in Syria should start realizing that it is in fact the new guard which is the real danger for everyone (not that the old one was a peach, mind you). But in strategic terms, the old guard is not as stupid as the new one.

Finally, Asma Akhras was never influential, nor was there ever a suggestion that she would be. This marriage was a tactical one, and any talk of her studies influencing her husband or the country is wishful thinking. She is a non-entity, having enough trouble as it is staying away from Bushra and from Anissa. The extent of her involvement is in social issues, especially in the case of rural women (which is certainly very important, but on a complete tangent).

By the way, I tought the most "important" Joud was Haytham Joud.

At 4/02/2005 04:03:00 PM, Anonymous Warren Windrem said...

"And the historically discredited Israeli narrative that Syria used to bomb Israeli settlements unprovoked from Golan before 1967 still holds currency among the Israeli public."
Historically discredited? by whom? When? I've never seen any of these discreditations.So where were those artillery shells coming from fo 19 years, '48 to '67?
If Syria is sincere about getting back the Golan Heights, a good place to start would be a very public statement saying, "We acknowledge Israeli anxiety about returning the Golan Heights. After 19 years of artillery attacks, such anxiety is understandable. With full awareness of Israeli anxiety on this issue, we humbly insist on return of the Golan Heights, and we will do whatever is necessary to releive Israeli anxieties about this. The government and people of Syria have no desire for or interest in historical revisionism, and fully acknowledge past aggressive actions on our part which were directed from the Golan Heights."

At 4/02/2005 04:33:00 PM, Anonymous Haidar said...

Warren Windren, your argument might have some credence, if it wasn't undermined by the israelis themselves. Look at this quote from moshe dayon, one of the generals who fought in the golan. I think he has more credibility then you or I when it comes to who provoked who in the Golan:

Also regarding the Heights, when asked about military conflict in the area, Moshe Dayan stated :

It would happen like this: We would send a tractor to plow someplace of no value, in the demilitarized zone, knowing ahead of time that the Syrians would begin to shoot. If they did not start shooting, we would tell the tractor to keep going forward, until the Syrians in the end would get nervous and start shooting. And then we would start firing artillery, and later also the airforce, and this was the way it was. I did this, and Laskov and Tzur [two previous commanders-in-chief] did it. Yitzhak Rabin did it when he was there , but it seems to me that it was Dado, more than anyone else, who enjoyed these games.

At 4/02/2005 04:35:00 PM, Anonymous Haidar said...

Another quote by the one-eyed man himself:

We thought then, and this continued for quite a long time, that we could change the lines of the armistice agreements by military actions that were less than war. That is, to grab some territory and to hang on to it until the enemy despairs and gives it to us. It can be said absolutely that this was sort of naive on our part, but you should remember that we did not have the experience of a state...

At 4/02/2005 10:01:00 PM, Blogger Brian H said...

I notice you didn't describe the source of funds that establish and maintain the regime toadies' and big shots' estates as "halal".

At 4/02/2005 10:33:00 PM, Blogger Chops said...

Welcome back, Josh, and thanks for the links. Chaos is truly the right word to describe Lebanon - and has been for a long time. The bank & security services corruption doesn't surprise me in the least... the fractures in the Syrian regime, however, are something of a surprise.

The Lebanese can legitimately ask themselves the question that Abraham Lincoln asked Americans when our nation was at its nadir: "Can a nation so conceived long endure?"

At 4/03/2005 01:09:00 AM, Anonymous Warren Windrem said...

(1) Haidar,

Please give me a link, or a source.

(2) Newsreporting: Uncle Rifa'at has surfaced in Nicosia, Cyprus, and is calling for elections. How much loyalty did he, does he, could he, command? Is he out for himself, or is he a stalking horse for the Islamic Brotherhood?

At 4/03/2005 04:09:00 AM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Very interesting and helpful comments on this post and the last.

By the way, the last post was translated into Arabic and published in all4Syria's newsletter, which has wide distribution here - pretty daring for Ayman Abdulnour and his group.

Anon. 3:06: Thanks for your smart corrections to Afrique Asie piece. Haytham Joud is the son of Subhi Joud, who was the original architect of the family empire. He may now have become the most "important" director of the family concerns as you say. I will ask around.

Ibrahim, Thanks for your Moshe Dayan quotes. Much of the swampy region below the Golan Heights - Lake Hula and the headwaters of the Jordan were captured by Syria in 1948. The UN armistice of 1949 had both sides, Israelis and Syrians, withdraw a certain distance from the armistice line in order to create a Demilitarized Zone. The struggle for the next two decades over who would get that territory and its valuable Jordan River waters led to the fighting between Israel and Syria.

Israel began to drain the swamp and prepare for the construction of the large water pipelines that were built in the 1950s to carry the water of the Jordan down to the Negev - allowing the "desert to bloom" and providing fresh water for cities such as Tel Aviv.

From the Syrian point of view, this was a land grab that contravened the UN DMZ agreements, hence the bombardments. It should also be noted that when Syria started to build a damn on one of the main tributaries of the Golan that feeds the Jordan River, Israel bombed it, just as Syria had been attacking Israeli projects aimed at taking the Jordan's water.

Israelis argued that they legally had rights to both sides of the Jordan because Britain had been able to claim the northern shores of the Jordan from the French in 1923. They argued the Syrian conquest of Palestinian land in 1948 below the Golan was illegal and that the UN had ceded it to the proposed Jewish state in 1947 when it voted on partition and confirmed this in its subsequent vote to recognize further Israeli conquests after the war.

Because there was no peace agreement between Syria and Israel after 1948, control of valuable land containing the headwaters of the Jordan remained in dispute. The UN was powerless to stop Israeli incursions into the DMZ to claim the land, as was Syria.

The growing clashes between Israel and Syria over the DMZ led to the 1967 war, when Israel solved its immediate problem by taking the Golan in its entirety. But, of course, the issue drags on.

At 4/03/2005 04:51:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leila from Dove's Eye View here - I really appreciate the tour of Syria's coast. God willing I'll see it for myself one day.

Also - best wishes for the continued good health of your son, Sha'aban, and all of your family. I'm delighted to know that you and your wife have a child. These personal notes make your blog all the more interesting.

Take care, and give the little guy a big kiss from an unknown Lebanese-American auntie in California. I have a 5 year old and a 3 year old, both boys.

At 4/03/2005 05:12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi joshua,
u can call me "syrian" if u can answer...
i was also pretty surprised when i saw ur last post in the all4syria email a couple of days ago...u have to understand that it is read by 212,000 Syrians EVERY day, and these statistics are from about 1 year ago, and i'm sure it's got a much bigger audience than that right now, so be prepared to become a nation-wide respected analyst if they continue to translate your articles...remember that nothing is more endearing to syrians than knowing foreigners interested and appreciative of their country, so i think ur gonna get ur own share of fame if all the rumours we are hearing about are true.........if ur asking what rumors,i'm talking about...well in the last 4-5 days, we have gotten literally a flood of articles quoting very high level sources about the VERY BIG changes that are coming in the next baath party has been practically confirmed that they are going to empty all the prisons, allow private and free political daily newspapers and private tv stations, form the new political parties law, they have also confirmed return of all syrian exiles (numbered in tens of thousands), and return of passports to the kurds in the next few u can say it's all talk, but it can't be because i have read confirmations of these things by literally about 30 different articles in the arab press from very high level sources top official said it was gonna be the biggest change syria has seen in last 50 years, and another said bashar is gonna lead a "jasmine revolution" (u know that's what damascus is known for)'s almost impossible to contain the excitement i am feeling, especially as i'm about to graduate next year from university (i'm in canada) and i'm dreamin of comin back to syria to work one day.....and thus can't wait to see u post all the discussions u had with ur contacts on the syrian coast as that would tell if i am getting 2 happy for nothing, or if there is substance behind what i am reading......
my 2 questions to u are:
1)can u read arabic? because if u can't, u r missing out on a whole lot of interesting articles, especially on, and ofcourse the all4syria report which is also in arabic.
2)do u think the changes that are coming will just turn syria into another jordan or egypt, and thus just cosmetic changes (a la Sadat style, or the way king hussein did in early 90's), or do u think the changes are more substantive than that in which the changes will be deeper than that, in that syria will be as democratic as lebanon for example where opposition is out in the open, very vibrant civil society etc. etc.
joshua pleeeeeeeeeeeaaaase answer me and don't ignore this post!!!
thanks for everythin u've been doin (been reading this for last 10 months)

At 4/03/2005 11:30:00 AM, Anonymous Haidar said...

Here is the source for the Moshe Dayan quotes:

I made sure to get you a jewish/israeli source so you wouldn't yell "arab propaganda".

Moshe Dayan was a very simple farmer and an honest man. That interview was published 5 years before he died, so he felt he had to give an accurate portrayal of what really happened. Thankfully, there are IDF commanders like Moshe Dayan who didn't lie and cover up the realities of the conflict.

At 4/03/2005 11:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Moshe Dayan truly presented himself as “a very simple farmer and an honest man.” The reality was not that simple. He was also a womanizer, an illegal archeologist, etc.

You should remember that these interviews were conducted in 1976 and 1977, only a short while after the October 1973 war. Moshe Dayan was the Defense Minister at the time, and one of the prime “political casualties” of that war in Israel.

This “very simple farmer and an honest man” was so hysterical in the early days of the war that he actually thought of using the Israeli nuclear arsenal against the Syrians and Egyptians.

His blubbering in 1976 was as much a backlash against his detractors from Labor, including the Kibutzim, as it was historical recollections. At the time he neither knew that he has only 5 years to live, nor that in 1977 he would land the seat of the Israeli Foreign Minister.

I mean, the man was a major force behind the early illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Sinai, and the Golan.

As for the “realities of the conflict,” Israel was certainly not some kind of an innocent victim, but neither were the Syrians. The past saw belligerent acts on both sides.

The future is not very bright too, at least in the short term. In Israel, Sharon has no political capital what so ever (or even a will of his own), to pull a land deal in the Golan. Everything is concentrated on the Gaza plan. Syria, on the other hand, continue to ally itself with Iran, Hizb Allah, and such regional players.

No peace in the offing any time soon, unfortunately.

At 4/03/2005 03:53:00 PM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

I wish that those gentlemen posting without a name will refrain from doing so because it is quite unhelpful, especially to the arguments they are trying to put accross.

Gents, please do use any kind of nickname that could identify and keep on posting whatever you feel on your mind.


At 4/03/2005 04:19:00 PM, Anonymous Elle said...

Ibrahim, why are you assuming we are all gentlement ... or even all men?

Yet another problem we have to deal with in Syria (and elsewhere, to be fair). So politics, economics and other "serious" matters are just the playfield of men? Typical!

That said, you made a good point. I'm the anonymous from 3:06 PM, if you need to know. And I'm a woman.

At 4/03/2005 05:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Tell us more about yourself, who are you married to? we know you have a son Sha'aban, your mother in law -um Firas, you loved the western coast of North-Western Syria, what else ?

What made you chose Syria , what is your background ... in other words give us some background about the person behind the personna, or is it hard talk ?

Waiting to know more .

At 4/03/2005 05:42:00 PM, Blogger Catherine said...

I am so confused..Sorry but this has nothing to do with politics..Joshua you can't possibly be a Syrian yet you talk about your son Shaaban( arabname) and his grndmother offering a sheep, ust like arabs...What is all that about??

At 4/03/2005 07:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Perhaps he married a woman from Syria? That sounds like the son-dad car accident teaser where no one guesses that the doctor who can't operate is the mom.


At 4/03/2005 07:39:00 PM, Anonymous Ghassan said...

Guys and gals,
Please don't post personal questions here. Limit your comments to discussion about articles unless personal issues are related to the articles. If you want to know more about Joshua Landis, go to his personal website ( and read more more about him. His email contact:

At 4/03/2005 08:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You can glean some details from information which Josh was gracious enough to offer his readers in his earlier posts.

“My father-in-law, . . . served as a (liwa') or general for ten years and was the number 2 man in the Syrian Navy …”

“my wife said to me this morning . . . my grandfather is buried in Jable.”

Josh apparently indicated that he is indeed married to a Syrian (or a woman of Syrian descent), and that his Syrian family was (is?) well placed within the Baath regime.

Josh, keep on with the interesting and informative posts.

At 4/04/2005 08:35:00 AM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Dear Syrian, I have copied part of your post into my new post. Everyone is waiting with baited breath here to see what will happen with the REgional Baath Party Congress. Some are very optimistic and others not.

Some of the ministers are saying off the record that the only way forward is radical reform. It is hard to know if they are just spinning. Why no one will say it on the record is always a mystery.

At 4/04/2005 09:20:00 AM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

By the way, I do read and speak Arabic. You can click on the "Wedding" Button on my home page (click on my picture on Syria Comment to get there,) if you are interested in family details.

I am an ordinary American of mostly English, Scottish, and German extraction. I was brought up in Lebanon in the 1960s and returned there to teach at International College for two years just before the Israeli invasion. Then went to the University of Damascus and lived in Wahda al-Uwla in 1981-82, where I began learning Arabic seriously. Got a Master's at Harvard and Ph.D. at Princeton and have been teaching ever since. I spent a year studying Arabic at the CASA program at AUC in Egypt and studied Turkish at Bosporus Univ. in Istanbul. I also spent a year at the University of Grenoble in France. I have frequently returned to Syria to do research, lived here in 1988-89, and met my wife three years ago while in Damascus.

So yes, the reason I have a beautiful son named Shaman (After her father) is because I married the lovely and talented Manar Qash`ur, who studied medicine at Tishriin Univ. and was working for UNICEF when I met her. We fell in love and I dragged her away from her job and back to the States, alhamdulillah.

For anyone wondering about my religion, I converted to Islam shortly before my marriage out of respect for Manar's family. I belonged to no religion before that, never having been baptized.

Manar is an Alawite from a secular and fairly unreligious family. My not being baptized and her being an Alawite caused us some problems at marriage. First because I cannot convert to Alawism. It is a closed and secret religion, so I am technically a Sunni, about which I like tease my family.

Second, we could not register our marriage in Syria because the Mukhabarat demand to see your baptism papers before accepting conversion documents. I do not have baptismal records and hence could not prove that I was not Jewish before conversion, so Manar remains registered as single in Syria and our son as .. well...

It doesn't seem to bother anyone though, so we don't much care. Anyway, our son cannot acquire Syrian citizenship. Only the father can give that so our marriage status is of no real legal import in Syria.

I am on a Fulbright Research Scholarship to write a book and Manar is teaching at the Canadian Workshop of kids in Mezzeh.

Manar's two sisters live in Damascus and her parents in Latakia. The father (from the villages of Banyas - Numaylatiyya tribe) held the rank of general in the Syrian Navy and was a Party member. He retired 10 years ago. Her mother was a school teacher for 25 years and is also retired. She is from Jable and her family were supporters of Salah Jadid, the ruler before Hafiz. Many of her family members were Communists and were put into jail under Hafiz, so she is not big on the regime. Several of her siblings now live in Canada or the States. She refused to let her children join the Baath Party, though her son insisted on joining when he was 15, which caused the two to stop speaking to each other for over a month.

Firas wanted to join the parachutists, which were the elite group in high school. They were given a special badge to wear, issued a side arm, and told, according to my mother-in-law, that they were the rulers of the school and should "crack anyone's head open who spoke against the regime." This sort of thing appeals to teenagers, I presume. It didn't appeal to Umm Firas, who still gets red in the face when speaking about it. My brother-in-law turns out to have survived his Baath experience without trouble. He is very kind and generous and wouldn't hurt a fly. Well, maybe a fly.

Everyone in the family, in fact, complains about the government, the way the party has become merely a job factory, and about corruption, but they are quite nationalistic and very much against American policy in the region.

Anyway, there are some facts about the family and who I am and why I offered up a sheep as *nidr* for my son.

At 4/04/2005 11:52:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leila from Dove's Eye View here:

Dear Ghassan - I'm sure you have the best intentions trying to keep the discussion focused on Syria, but a blog is a free-wheeling and personal bulletin board. It is almost like a cafe. If you don't like the personal questions (and answers -thanks Josh for the long explanation) then skip them!

Just a friendly suggestion. Josh as our host has the choice of telling us to stay on topic, but he hasn't. And since he brings up his family life, it's perfectly reasonable to ask about it.

You'll notice that Josh doesn't even delete or criticize the comments of people who post attacks on him that are insulting and rude. He's being a very tolerant and open blog host.

At 4/04/2005 02:20:00 PM, Anonymous Mechul said...

“we could not register our marriage in Syria because the Mukhabarat demand to see your baptism papers before accepting conversion documents. I do not have baptismal records and hence could not prove that I was not Jewish before conversion.”

Does it mean that Jews cannot convert to Islam in Syria, or that no one without an established religious affiliation could convert?

That is interesting. Conversions must be an explosive topic in Syria(perhaps kept under the rug), as it is in Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey.

As a matter of fact, the Turkish newspapers these days are full of reports on the threat posed by missionary activities.

Are conversions even a topic for public discussion or debate in Syria, or is it kept outside of the public sphere?

Any information, from any one, would be most welcomed.

At 4/04/2005 08:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can tell you about my experience, Mechul--I am an American, living in New York, where I met my wife who is a Lebanese Sunni. I converted informally when we were first married just over a year ago in the states, and then went through a legal conversion and traditional muslim wedding ceremony in Beirut. I was raised Catholic, but parted ways with the church many years ago. Though I knew nothing about Islam except what I knew about Muhammed Ali and Malcom X, my wife's love, and her family's warmth convinced me of the truth of Islam. The conversion was a formal and bureaucratic process, but nothing difficult.

My wife grew up in France, where her family fled during the civil war, and has lived in New York for 8 years, so she's pretty westernized. we consider ourselves to be 'moderate Muslims,' and it is our opinion that religion is a personal matter. Her mother is from Syria, and many of her family still live in Syria, and I was fortunate to meet all of them at our wedding, where I was impressed with their warmth, friendliness and dancing abilities! Some of the women wear the hijab, and some are more 'modern' (for lack of a better word) in their dress. I also had a chance to talk to her cousin, a Syrian businessman who was educated in the US, and some of her other cousins in the Syrian military about the situation there (in very polite terms).

Despite my limited Arabic, I feel very accepted by my wife's family, and indeed fortunate to be able to go to Lebanon and meet these people and communicate. From what I gather, everybody is pleased to have me. Needless to say, I've had a lot of learning to do, in many different subjects. It's very positive to have Joshua's candid and factually informative blog to learn from--Thank You!

We have been planning to return to Beirut in May or June, but according to my mother-in-law, people arent' going out, because they are feeling the threat of the bombings, that are coming closer and closer to Beirut, and tensions are being felt. It really is a volatile situation, so we are going to monitor events and plan accordingly.

There is also unfortunately a rift between my mother-in-law and her Syrian family, over what's happened lately. As many of the posts on this blog have discussed of late, this pitting of the peoples of Syria and Lebanon is not a positive development, and steps need to be taken by *people* on both sides. Rather than being distracted by feuding with each other, both peoples' attention should be focused on their own government--inshallah!


At 4/05/2005 01:46:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not a Muslim, I'm a Lebanese American of Christian background, but I have studied Islam. Why would anybody's conversion to Islam be a formal and bureaucratic process anywhere? How do these governments get away with it? I thought that according to the Koran all you must do is say the shahada three times in front of a Muslim male witness (or two female - did I get the number right?).

My Protestant, anti-religious-bureaucracy leanings are showing here. I think the state has no business interfering in matters of religion, including who is truly converted and who isn't. Of course in the Middle East every state interferes, including Israel, where some conversions to Judaism are more acceptable than others.

Leila of Dove's Eye View

At 4/05/2005 09:21:00 AM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

What is it that Anonymous posters gain from not signing with a particular name

At 4/05/2005 11:50:00 AM, Anonymous Leila said...

Re: anonymous postings - if you don't have a blogger account, which I don't, you must post anonymously. I haven't tried the "other" option yet. It's new. Let's see what it does.

You'll notice that I've been using my name and web page in the body of the comment. If this "other" option works well I'll use it from now on.

Maybe people, like me, just aren't familiar with the format and follow the path of least resistance, which generates Anonymous at 1:53, Anonymous at 8:07, etc.

At 4/05/2005 12:47:00 PM, Anonymous David W said...

I agree with you Leila, but i did the 'formal' process to please my mother-in-law;>

to clarify, i may have blended the process for conversion, and applying for the marriage license together--the actual conversion was just a meeting with an imam, though it did take place in what seemed to be a government office--originally, my conversion was a simple recitation of the shahada in front of some Muslim friends...

the main benefit of a 'formal' conversion, imo, would be for visiting Mecca--i know that they screen all visitors before they can enter, and i'm sure there is more scrutinization for 'informal' conversions.


ps. afa the Anonymous posting, i do have a Blogger account, but the login seems to be having some issues

At 4/12/2005 09:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see that Hizbullah has its own air force flying drones over Israel...that's like Cuban exiles in Southern Florida flying drones over Havana...We Americans might dislike Castro but we leave Air Forcing to Uncle Sam.

At 4/12/2005 09:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see that Hizbullah has its own air force flying drones over Israel...that's like Cuban exiles in Southern Florida flying drones over Havana...We Americans might dislike Castro but we leave Air Forcing to Uncle Sam.

At 11/04/2009 03:38:00 AM, Blogger allan Gering said...

Syria has a very very nice beach , i was there last month. lol.
Good source for Cabo San Lucas travel deals


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