The IDF’s Criminal Record Again…


Expecting the unexpected in Lebanon—or should we say—the very expected?

By Forward Magazine

The unexpected was for this round of battle on the Lebanese-Israeli border to be between the IDF and the Lebanese Army—and not Hizbullah. The expected was for Israel to strike—four days after the Syrian-Saudi Summit in Beirut—in order to drown all Arab initiatives aimed at protecting Lebanon from slipping into chaos. Israel is setting the stage for a new war with Lebanon—clearly from the blatant violation of UNSCR 1701 and its invasion of Lebanese territory on August 2.

Earlier today, a patrol from the IDF crossed the border into Lebanon and was confronted by the Lebanese Army at the Odeissi village in the South. UNIFEL tried to halt the advancement, with little luck, leading to the death of 3 Lebanese soldiers, the wounding of 4, and according to Hizbullah’s al-Manar TV, the killing of a “senior Israeli officer.” The Lebanese Army, with full support of President Michel Suleiman and Army Commander Jean Kahwaji, has stressed self-defense, blaming the IDF for outbreak of hostilities and placing full support behind the Lebanese Army. Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri called on the Lebanese government to take the matter to the Security Council, words echoed from the other side by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said that the Lebanese Army had violated UNSCR 1701. All parties are currently waiting for a speech by Hasan Nasrallah, expected at 8:30 Beirut time, to lay out the vision for what will happen in the hours ahead.

For four years, all eyes have been on Lebanon, predicting a new war between the IDF and Hizbullah. All objectives set forth by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert were not met: the two Israeli soldiers were not released and far from being annihilated, Hizbullah emerged from that battle, stronger than ever before, morally, politically, and militarily. Several consecutive senior Israeli military officials were forced to resign as a result of that war, including the Chief-of-Staff.

It was reasoned for long that the US wanted that war more so than Israel. The Bush White House wanted to prevent Hizbullah-like groups from emerging in failed states throughout the world; in Pakistan, Sudan, and Iraq. The Pentagon wanted the war to test the pulse of Iran’s military abilities prior to waging war against Tehran. The State Department wanted the war because it had adopted the pro-Western cabinet of then-Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora, which had taken a strong Hizbullah position.

Time and again, that war did not happen. Primarily this was because nobody in Lebanon wanted a new round of battle—certainly not Hizbullah. Additionally Israel was not going to venture into another war, where results were not 100% guaranteed against Hizbullah. Israel was not going to go into another war—and not win. In 1973, Golda Meir resigned from her post as Israeli Prime Minister not because Israel lost the war against Egypt and Syria. She resigned because Israel did not win.   

For months now, however, the Israelis have been setting the stage for a new war in the Middle East. It started with a November 2009 accusation that Iranian arms were discovered on a German ship headed for Hizbullah. Then came a fabricated story in mid-April 2010, claiming that Hizbullah was receiving advanced Scud missiles from Syria. More recently Israeli Army Commander Gaby Ashkenazi further provoked the Lebanese fighters by claiming that an earthquake was in store for them next September, when the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) names Hizbullah officials in the 2005 murder of Rafiq al-Harriri. Last Thursday, Israeli TV came out with a blatant statement, naming a senior Hizbullah commander in the Harriri Affair. Hizbullah—which has repeatedly said that it does not want war but would be ready for it—refuses all blame for Harriri’s blood, claiming that the STL is an “Israeli project” aimed at targeting the Lebanese resistance. Hizbullah would continue to refuse the STL, its leaders stressed, so long as the international probe refuses to even consider Israeli involvement in the Harriri murder.  What Israel could not achieve through bullets and missiles, Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah was saying, it would try to attain through the STL.

What is happening today brings back strong memories of the war of 2006—an Israeli army desperate to strike back at Lebanon and Hizbullah for having enforced the worse defeat on the Jewish State’s history since its creation in 1948.  

President Bashar al-Assad got on the phone with his Lebanese counterpart Michel Suleiman, expressing his country’s full support for the Lebanese in the hostilities that broke out on the border with Israel.

Echoing the Syrian leader’s words were the people of Syria and the Arab World, who have old and grey watching Israel kill whatever chances of peace and stability emerge in the Middle East.

Damascus-born Syrian girl becomes German Top Model 2010

Alisar: The beauty from Damascus who became Germany's Top Model


By Forward Magazine

Alisar Ailabouni, a 20-year old Syrian girl who lives in Austria, has been elected as German Top Model 2010, at a mega-event hosted by German supermodel Heidi Klum at the Cologne Lanxess Arena, attended by 15,000 spectators.

Alisar, who was born in Damascus then moved with her family to Europe, where she was raised in Mattighofen in Upper Austria. She is a tall, slender, and dazzling chestnut haired beauty whose hobbies include horseback riding, basketball, and skating. She now plans on making it big in the modeling business, having been crowned Top Model from among 23,000 contesters. Ailabouni has already signed up to appear on the cover of the German edition of COSMOPOLITAN Magazine after yanking the Top Model title from her predecessor, German-Ethiopian model, Sara Nunu.

Her election comes only one month after the Beirut-born Lebanese Rima al-Faqih became Miss USA for 2010.  It shows that Syrians beauty still rules all over the world!

4 Syrians arrested after the Flotilla Affair all released

By Forward Magazine

The four Syrians arrested by Israel for having been onboard the Turkish ship Marmara on Monday, have all been released from Israeli captivity and are now headed for Jordan where they will then leave to Syria.

They include: Shaza Barakat (45), Hasan Rifaii (43), Mohammad Salta (47) and Hilarion Capucci (88) the famous ex-Archbishop of Jerusalem who although Palestinian, holds Syrian nationality. This brings the saga of the Freedom Flotilla, which started last Monday, to an end although justice needs to be done to the 20 civilians killed onboard the ship, 15 of them being Turks, and the 50 others wounded.

3 new Syrians onboard the Freedom Flotilla, now in Israeli jails, including Archbishop Capucci

Archbishop Capucci

Archbishop Capucci demonstrating for Gaza


By Forward Magazine 

The original story said that only one Syrian, ex-schoolteacher Shaza Barakat, had been onboard the Freedom Flotilla and that she is now in Israeli captivity. It is now clear that three other Syrians were onboard the Turkish ship attacked by Israel at 4 am on May 31, where 20 civilians were killed and another 50 were wounded. Barakat, however, was the only Syrian female onboard the Freedom Fleet headed to the Gaza Strip. 

The remaining Syrians are Hasan Rifaii (43), Mohammad Salta (47) and Hilarion Capucci (88) the famous ex-Archbishop of Jerusalem who although Palestinian, holds Syrian nationality. Cappuci, a household name in Syria, is hailed as a struggler by yonug and old for his fierce defiance of Israel, which landed him in jail back in 1974, where he was sentenced to 12 years behind bars for support of the Palestinian resistance. He was eventually released in 1977 and exiled to the Vatican, where he still lives, traveling at length to promote Arab causes, becoming an unofficial ambassador for the Palestinians. 

According to Syria’s Grand Mufti Ahmad Hassoun, Capucci bid him farewell in Damascus before heading off to board the Freedom Flotilla, saying: “I hope that I can land on the shores of Palestine, and that I die, and get the chance to burried in my beloved country!” 

Cappuci had been honored with postal stamps carrying his image in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Sudan. 

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, saying that the UN shoulders full responsibility for the safety of the 4 Syrians. Unconfirmed reports are saying that while most of the detained activists have been taken to a prison in Bir al-Sabei (Beersheba in Hebrew and English) for interrogation, the Syrian woman Shaza Barakat has been taken to Askalan (Ashkelon), which is a prison for those spending long prison terms, already convicted by Israeli courts. 

Meanwhile, Ali al-Oweissi (a Palestinian with British nationality) and the son of Professor Abd al-Fattah Oweissi, Dean of the Faculty of International Relations at Kalamoon University in Syria, has been confirmed alive and well but also, in Israeli jails in Bir al-Sabei for having been onboard the Turkish ship, Marmara.

Free Shaza Barakat—the only Syrian woman onboard the Freedom Flotilla

Free Shaza Barakat—the only Syrian woman onboard the Freedom Flotilla

 By Forward Magazine, Syria

The only woman onboard the Freedom Flotilla, Shaza Barakat, has been arrested by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and taken to a prison within Israel. She happens to be the only Syrian woman among the hundreds of activists who were attacked by the IDF at 4 am on Monday, where 20 civilians were killed, 15 of whom were Turkish citizens.

Shaza, aged 45, was born in the northern city of Idlib in 1965. She is an amateur scriptwriter who currently works as manager of a computer systems academy in Damascus and had formerly served as an instructor of Arabic at the Pakistani International School of Damascus (PISOD). Shaza, a mother of three, dreams of writing a 30-episode drama about the life of Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. Her husband said that he had last spoken to her more than 24-hours ago, before the Freedom Flotilla was stormed by the IDF on May 31.

Forward Magazine calls for international solidarity with Shaza Barakat. She needs to be treated in a human and dignified manner, since she was illegally arrested by the Israelis, having committed no crime except help channel humanitarian aid to Gaza. She needs to be released from Israeli captivity and justice needs to be done to the thousands of those who were terrorized by the IDF earlier this week. Our prayers go out to the 20 civilians killed on Monday.

World condemns the Flotilla Massacre


A boat dedicated to American ISM activist Rachel Corrie who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 while protesting against the demolition of a Palestinian home. (Photo and Photo-caption taken from

Twenty-seven EU countries have gone into urgent session through their ambassadors in Brussels on Monday, to debate the dramatic events off the shore of Gaza, where the Israeli Army attacked a convoy of ships carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid to the Strip, which has been besieged by the Israelis since the summer of 2007. At 4 am on Monday, the IDF attacked the Freedom Flotilla, 64 km into international waters, killing no less 19 civilians and wounding over 50. Fifteen of those killed onboard the Freedom Flotilla were Turkish citizens while a seasoned Palestinian leader, Raed Salah, was wounded in the attack and so head of the Lebanese delegation. Australian journalist Paul McGeough and photographer Kate Geraghty are both missing onboard the ship, and so is the best selling Swedish novelist Henning Mankell and Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, the Northern Irish Nobel peace laureate, along with four Scottish passengers and 28 British nationals. The names of those killed in the horrendous attack have not yet been disclosed at the time of writing, 24-hours after the Israeli operation.

Meanwhile, France, Egypt, Spain, Sweden, Athens, Denmark—and of course Turkey—have summoned Israeli ambassadors in their capitals, seeking an explanation for what happened. The UN Security Council went into urgent session in New York, preparing a draft resolution condemning the Israeli operation, calling for the immediate release of the besieged ships, and for an international inquiry. For his part, Ban Ki Moon said that he was “shocked” at what had happened, calling for a “full investigation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was wrapping up a visit to Canada at the time of the attack, headed back to his country as international criticism mounted on Tel Aviv for what happened off the shores of Gaza. Netanyahu abruptly canceled a Tuesday meeting scheduled earlier with US President Barack Obama, defending his country’s action, claiming that his troops were “provoked” into opening fire when attacked by men with knives, onboard the Flotilla. The official US statement—as that of the entire international community—seemed to doubt Netanyahu’s argument. In an official statement, Washington said: “The President expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today’s incident, and concern for the wounded. The President also expressed the importance of learning all the facts and circumstances around this morning’s tragic events as soon as possible.” The Syrians, who have been warning of accumulated tension in the Middle East, strongly condemned the Flotilla attack, with President Bashar al-Assad saying that US support for Israel “regardless of what crimes it commits has led shattering stability in the region.” He called on the US to “pressure Israel to cease its vicious attacks and lift the siege on Gaza.” His words were echoed by Iran, Hamas, and Hizbullah in Lebanon, which called what happened, “a terrorist attack that deserves punishment.” Netanyahu said that his soldiers had been forced to open fire on the civilians onboard the Flotilla, after they had been “clubbed, beaten, and stabbed.” He added that his soldiers “had to defend themselves, defend their lives of they would have been killed.” Most observers of the crisis, both Arab and European, write off the Israeli argument as sheer nonsense. Arafat Shoukri, of the Free Gaza Movement (FGM), said that he had spoken to the activists onboard the ship when the Israeli helicopters had arrived. He elaborated, “Then we started to hear screams, shouting, shooting everywhere. We heard some of them shouting ‘We are raising the white flag, stop shooting at us!’” All talk about the activists being armed, he added, “was cheap propaganda.”

The angriest response no doubt, came from Turkey’s Erdogan, who cut short a trip to Latin America and returned to Ankara, accusing Israel of “inhumane state terrorism” and “violation of international law.” The Turkish Ambassador to Israel Oguz Celikkol has been recalled to Ankara while the Turkish Prime Minister angrily defended those onboard the ships, saying that Netanyahu’s claim that they had been carrying arms were “lies.” Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in major Turkish cities and throughout Damascus, Beirut and Baghdad. For its part, Greece withdrew its joint military exercises with Israel, protesting against the Gaza raid while French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that he condemned “the disproportionate use of force” while thousands of demonstrators tried to storm the Israeli Embassy in Paris. Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said that there was a “clear need for Israel to act with restraint and in line with international obligations.”

The Elders Group—a combination of 12 past and present world leaders—launched by ex-South African President Nelson Mandela back in 2007, strongly condemned the Flotilla attack, describing it as “completely inexcusable.” In a statement on Monday, the group said: “This tragic incident should draw the world’s attention to the terrible suffering of Gaza’s 1.5 million people, half of whom are children under the age of 18.” The Elders Group includes six Nobel Peace Prize winners, among who are former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, former US President Jimmy Carter, and President Mandela. They collectively stated that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip “was not only one of the world’s greatest human rights violations” but also “illegal” and “counterproductive.” World respected ex-Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad came out with a strong statement in favor of the Flotilla victims, saying: “I feel very angry that the Israelis have used force against people totally unarmed. I am sure the Israelis will say that these people are carrying weapons. That is ridiculous!”

Syria is furious

Both government and public alike awoke to horrendous news coming out of Gaza, being under vicious attack during early morning hours by the IDF on the convoy of ships carrying international activities to break the siege on Gaza. A total of 16 civilians were killed, mostly Turks, while Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement in Palestine and Dr Hani Suleiman, head of the Lebanese delegation, were seriously wounded in the attack.
Syrian public opinion is likely to explode. This morning the People’s Assembly (parliament) went into urgent session to discuss the onslaught. Meanwhile Syria’s ambassador to the Arab League called for a urgent session, which has been set for Monday, June 1. Massive demonstrations will likely break out in major cities throughout Syria.

Developing Story…

A tribute to Nizar

Sami Moubayed

Last Thursday, April 29, 2010, marked the 12th anniversary of the passing of Syria’s legendary poet, Nizar Qabbani. It seems like almost yesterday. I recall that I was at the campus of the American University of Beirut (AUB) when I got the news. It ripped like forest fire among young people in Beirut and Damascus, especially revolutionary college students in love either with a sweetheart or a national cause, be it Palestinian, Syrian, or Lebanese. I recall immediately traveling to Damascus, hoping that I can take part in his funeral, which was attended by thousands of Syrians bidding farewell to “Abu Tawfiq,” who draped in the Syrian Flag, was returned to his beloved city Damascus after decades of self-imposed exile in Beirut, Cairo, and London. It was the first time that Damascene women take part in a funeral, including his daughter, grandchildren, and friends—notably, the Syrian novelist Colette Khury.

At the Syrian Cultural Club at AUB, we organized a memorial on the 40th day of his passing. Nizar after all had spoken at West Hall in the heart of the Beirut College back in the 1950s, where he had met Colette for the first time. He eulogized Beirut often; before, during, and after the horrendous Civil War, describing her as “Lady of the World.” He came to AUB in 1994 to perform an unforgettable recital at College Hall, and months before his death, had sent us a letter to the Syrian Club, promising to visit AUB again, “when his health permits.”

Nizar Qabbani was an exceptional man, who led an exceptional life, and has left behind an exceptional legacy. There is no difference between loving one’s nation, he would say, and loving one’s woman. Nations rise, he added, when the love for woman and nation become so closely interwoven that they are inseparable. On the contrary, the more one is able to show affection for his woman, the more likely he will adore his nation as well, and fight for her—either with the pen, the ballot, or the gun—until curtain fall. All of this can be seen in his unforgettable works, which over 10-years since his passing, still sell well throughout the Arab world. They are books like Tufulat Nahd (Childhood of a Breast), Al-Rasm Bil Kalimat (Drawing with Words), and Qalat Liya al-Samra (The Brunette Said to Me).

Nizar was a man tormented with grinding hardships, the early death of his sister, the untimely death of his eldest son Tawfiq (while studying to be a medical doctor in Cairo), and ultimately, the murder of his Iraqi wife Balqis al-Rawi at the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut. “Death” he wrote in his eulogy of her, “lurks in the keys of our apartment, deep within our coffee cups, and in the flowers of our balcony!”

Politically the bombing of his capital Damascus in 1945 devastated Nizar and so did the war of 1967. When authorities banned him from entering Egypt, Nizar was heartbroken, appealing directly to President Gamal Abdul Nasser whom he had harshly criticized in a poem written right after the war asking: “When will you leave us? The theatre has collapsed over your heads and people in the audience are spitting at you and cussing! When will you go away?” Nasser’s death in 1970, nevertheless, was equally harsh on Nizar, where he eulogized him as “the Fourth Pyramid” and so was the Lebanese Civil War, the 1982 occupation of Beirut, and Yasser Arafat’s peace with the Israelis in 1993.

Nizar’s death was sad, but the fact that 12-years down the road, the Arab world has failed to produce a similar legend, is tragic. We have watched, over the last 10-15 years, the passing of great figures like Muhammad al-Maghout, Najib Mahfouz, and Mahmud Darwish. Sadly, there is nobody in Syria, Egypt, or Palestine who lives up to the caliber of these gigantic figures—or even comes close to walking in their footsteps. That is very true for Syrian giants like Saadallah Wannus, Maghout, and Nizar. Nowadays, we find that his poems are being used, left-and-right, by singers wanting to score a quick victory. Poets from all ages cannot escape his style and vocabulary—it is almost as if a poem influenced by Nizar jumps out at the reader and declares its loyalty to the poet.

Nizar Qabbani once said, “Death is afraid of one thing: creative people! When death creeps up to take any one of us, and finds him/her seated behind their desk, busy writing, he gets embarrassed—shy that he to interrupt what we are doing, certain that even if he takes us, we will never die because we live through our works!”

How right he was…

The staff and editorial team at Forward Magazine, wishes to take this opportunity to pay homage to Syria’s legend, Nizar Qabbani.

Syrian Business Visionary Strives to Boost Entrepreneurship: Abdulsalam Haykal

The World Economic Forum named Abdulsalam Haykal (right) a Young Global Leader. (Photo source:

An article was posted recently on website about Abdulsalam Haykal, CEO and Publisher of Haykal Media (and its subsidiary, Forward Magazine).

Titled, Syrian Business Visionary Strives to Boost Entrepreneurship, here is an excerpt of the article:

20 April 2010

Syrian Business Visionary Strives to Boost Entrepreneurship

Technology, publishing, business growth in Abdulsalam Haykal’s repertoire

This article is part of a series on delegates to the April 26–27 Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.

By M. Scott Bortot
Staff Writer

Washington — If Abdulsalam Haykal has his way, Syria someday will be known as a regional technology hub led by a dynamic work force.

The young Syrian entrepreneur is no ordinary businessman. Haykal works actively to improve Syria’s small-business growth while running Damascus-based software firm Transtek and Haykal Media publishing house.

Haykal is president of the Syrian Young Entrepreneurs Association and a founding trustee of the BIDAYA Foundation, two organizations dedicated to empowering aspiring business people in Syria. In recognition of his business development activities, the Obama administration has invited Haykal to attend the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship April 26-27 in Washington.

For the full text, click here.


Hands-up! You’ve been smoking!

By Sami Moubayed
Photography by Carole al-Farah, Photo-editing by Ibrahim Aladdin
Forward Magazine, Syria

Yesterday at the popular Rawda Cafe next to the Syrian Parliament, an elderly man walked in to sit at a corner he has reserved for himself, for nearly 40-years. Back then in 1970 he was 30, while the cafe itself was approximately 30-years old. He took out a cigarette as he has customarily done for the last four decades, lite it to inhale strong tobacco, then to his complete amazement was approached by one of the waiters who politely said; “This section is now smoke-free Sir. You have to extinguish your cigarette. If you want to smoke you have to sit in the courtyard!” Grumbling the man walked out with tail between his legs, speaking to himself and saying: “What is left of this life if one cannot smoke a cigarette anymore at any place he desires or has been used to for so long!”

It has been very amusing I must say, watching society prepare itself for the smoking ban that went into effect yesterday, on April 21, 2010. Hours before the ban was implimented, while seated at one of the coffee shops in Damascus, I said to a friend, “Say farewell to an era; the argeelah craze that took over Syria since the mid-1990s, is finally coming to an end!” Back in 1996, only a handful of cafes tolerated Turkish pipe smoking in Syria. Ten years down the road, it was difficult to find a venue in Syria that does not provide Turkish pipes—not to forget the door-to-door service, known as “arageel delivery!”

The new law, passed six months ago by President Bashar al-Assad, says that any indoor café or restaurant with no open ceiling will not be able to serve Turkish pipes, or tolerate the smoking of cigarettes, pipes, and cigars. That applies to all pubs, lounges, and the hundreds of cafes that have mushroomed all over the Syrian capital in recent years. No more cigar chomping at the Piano Bar in Old Damascus or at the lounges of the Sheraton Hotel and Four Seasons. No more argeeleh & tea over a good game of cards at the Orient Club. No more smoking in the crowded corridors of state-buildings, or in any government-related territory.

Venues with a concrete ceiling that nevertheless has openings throughout it; can permit smoking provided that the percentage of the smoking zone is relative to the percentage of the openings in the ceiling. Those penalized will pay up to 5,000 SP ($108 USD) per smoking violation, while venues owners breaking the law will pay up to 40,000 SP (870 USD) per penalty. A special police will be charged with roaming the streets of Syrian cities to track down anybody breaking the law while a 4-digit “hotline” has been created, linking citizens to authorities so they can ‘report’ any law violator. An official receipt for those who are caught smoking has already been published in official periodicals, and is posted on this blog. Repeated violations can lead to prison for ordinary Syrians and complete discharge from government service, for state employees.

It must be noted that several companies in the private sector have already started paving ground for the law, granting a salary increase or hefty bonus, to those who stop smoking at will. In addition to government buildings, smoking has been banned in cars, buses, trains, aiports, schools, universities, prisons, cinemas, and all sports facilities.

Will the law really go into effect, and how serious will the “smoke police” be in implementing it? Those who have seen the experience succeed in Europe are optimistic that the experience can easily be copied in Syria. Although there is a lot of resentment from smokers—who claim that the new law infringes on their basic rights as citizens—many predict that this resistance will fade away in no more than 2-3 months.

Will the Syrians manage to give up their long-held and cherished smoking habits, where for as long as anybody can remember, they have gone to cafes for a strong cigarette—Hamra tawila (Syrian made cigarettes), imported Marlboros, or a good apple-flavored Turkish pipe, topped with a challenging game for backgammon?

A question, waiting for answers…

The three codes of Troy

Sami Moubayed

I might be old-fashioned, but I am someone who is still very much impressed by good manners. I still smile when a young boy addresses me as Sir, or “hadirtak” as they say in Arabic, or looks me in the eye when talking, connecting his sentences with useful phrases like, “thank you,” “please,” and “may I?” I personally still do all of the above when addressing someone my senior, in addition to other creative terminology pulled right out of a bygone dictionary.

I still let them walk out a room or into one before me, and stand up to give them a seat at any particular gathering. A long time ago when I was a child, my father walked into the room from a hard day at work, while I was watching television, slumped on the living room couch. I smiled and innocently waved hello, and while red-in-the face, he ordered me to stand up and greet him properly. We had to repeat the entire scene; he walked out of the room then back into it, and I had to stand up and greet him with respect. I then watched him over the years stand to greet anyone who walked up to him, regardless of their age or social status, and have since, copied that behavior in my professional and personal life. As customarily done in Arab tradition, I used to kiss his right hand when walking into a particular gathering. As old-fashioned as this may sound to a Western audience, this is customarily practiced throughout the Arab world, by men of all ages, to this day.

My father loved to tell us the story of Badr al-Din al-Shallah, the veteran president of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce (DCC) who always addressed his Oxford-trained son and successor Dr Rateb as “child” and ordered him, although the man was a grandfather in his own right, to carry out household chores, like fetching him his slippers or bringing him a glass of water. I grew up hearing these stories, over-and-over again, and so did many who were told of the fascinating relationship between Bader al-Din Shallah and his son, Rateb al-Shallah. Today, father-to-son relations are no longer like that, although a few cases still stand out in Damascene society.

To show just how different this world is becoming; a 40-year old cousin of mine still refuses to smoke a Turkish pipe – let alone a cigarette – before his octogenarian father. Good manners are taught at home and at school, and should be celebrated and nourished in society and public life. It applies to how we drive, where we park our cars, how (and where) we answer our cellular phone, and how we behave at restaurants. It includes how we conduct any particular conversation, the tone of our voice in public, how we speak of our ministers, elected officials, and community leaders – and in turn, how they speak of us, ordinary citizens.

50-years ago, private Syrian individuals and NGOs launched a series of campaigns aimed at raising public awareness in Syria. One was to combat the copying of ideas and trends from the West: Al-hamla al-wataniya li mukafahet al-takleed. One was to eradicate cheating at schools and university, and another aimed at eliminating apple-polishing (or tamalouk & nifak in Arabic) from all sectors of Syrian public life. These were creative initiatives, coming at the heels of more direct and traditional campaigns, like ones to combat violence against women, illiteracy, and child labor.

It wouldn’t be such a bad idea then, to start a campaign to promote good manners and good citizenship in Syria. When toying with the idea of such a campaign, I couldn’t but recall the words of Hector, the brave Trojan warrior in Homer’s epic: “All my life I’ve lived by a code and the code is simple: honor the gods, love your woman and defend your country!” We need to promote similar codes in Syria – which if applied while building on Syrian traditions and customs would make this country a better place for all of us.

Never in a million years!

Sami Moubayed

I was always amazed at Western journalists enchanted by Walid Jumblatt in 2005-2008, describing him as a ‘hero of Lebanese independence’ who had been ‘anti-Syrian for years.’ Anybody who said or believed that clearly knew very little about Syrian-Lebanese relations, and nothing about Walid Jumblatt. During the civil war and the 1990s, Jumblatt was one of the pillars of the pro-Syrian camp in Lebanon, which included then-Finance Minister Fouad al-Siniora and Prime Minister Rafiq al-Harriri. He served as cabinet minister and MP during the heyday of Syria’s presence in Lebanon and was a very frequent visitor to Damascus. He owned a house and office in the Syrian capital and was married to Nora, a Damascene lady who is the daughter of Syria’s former Defense Minister Ahmad al-Sharabati.

By apologizing to Syria, government and people alike, and landing in Damascus yesterday, Walid Jumblatt stirred up media attention once again, about where the man—a skilled political chameleon brilliant at political acrobats—really stands on Syrian-Lebanese relations. I personally don’t have an answer, and nobody really does except for Walid Jumblatt.

I met Jumblatt twice in 2002 for an interview for the pro-Palestinian American magazine, The Washington Report. Back then he was still loudly pro-Syrian. I drove up to his castle in al-Mukhtara on one cold Sunday morning, where “Walid Bey” was scheduled to meet me, at 9 am. What I recall best is the very lax security surrounding his residence as I walked through the stone corridors of the mansion, adorned with photos of his father and the Syrian resistance leader Sultan Pasha al-Atrash. Walid Jumblatt was in a large hall surrounded by hundreds of citizens coming to seek his favor, casually laid back in jeans and white shirt. I presented him with copies of the magazine and a copy of my book which mentioned his father-in-law during the Palestine War of 1948.

We had strong Arabic coffee and chatted about the interview for 15 minutes, and then I headed back to Beirut. He preferred to conduct the interview at his residence in the Lebanese capital, next to the American University of Beirut.

The next day, I walked over to Jumblatt’s house, which was minutes from where I lived in Beirut, and found him all alone at his living room, reading the mass circulation daily An-Nahhar, with a copy of my book by his side. He had clearly gone through it earlier that morning and we talked about his father-in-law Ahmad Sharabati, whose reputation was tarnished for leading the Syrian Army into defeat in 1948. We then switched to contemporary affairs, and the record of what Walid Jumblatt said to me speaks volumes about how the Druze leader really thought prior to the ‘cold war’ between Damascus and the Bush White House, which in turn led to a cold war between Syria and Jumblatt.

First, he seemed completely convinced that George W. Bush had one-way or another, staged 9-11 to justify a crusade against the Arabs and Muslims, similar to how Adolph Hitler had presumably torched the Reichstag in 1933 to justify a war against Jews—and everybody else who was opposed to the Nazis.

He then said, “They (the Americans) want us to stand against Syria and we tell them: Never in a million years! By asking us to work against Syria they are telling us to work against ourselves, against our history and our nation! We tell them: We are with Syria until the last drop of blood!” He then added, “I personally am with Syria regardless of who is ruling it; whether it is Adib al-Shishakli (who waged a war against the Druze in 1953), Shukri al-Quwatli, or Bashar al-Assad. I will never work against Syria no matter what happens, nor will I turn my back on the Palestinians!” He then spoke about his relationship with Yasser Arafat, who was besieged at his compound in Ramallah by Ariel Sharon, reminding how he had escorted Abu Ammar out of Beirut in the summer of 1982, weeping at the exodus of the Palestinians from Lebanon, 20-years ago.

All of these images kept coming to mind as I heard Walid Jumblatt fire very derogatory remarks against Syria in 2005, accusing it of assassinating Rafiq al-Harriri. It was unbelievable that only three years later, this very man had uttered such strong words in favor of Syria. Jumblatt had been used and abused by the Bush White House and his allies in March 14—very willingly—and single handedly took blame for the slump in Syrian-Lebanese relations during the difficult 5-years that have passed.

The isolation Bush tried to impose on Syria is now history. Bush has sunk into obscurity; Jumblatt has admitted his mistakes, while Syria’s relationship with its allies, Hizbullah, Hamas, and Iran, remains as strong as ever. Jumblatt’s visit to Syria, three months after Prime Minister Saad Harriri came to Damascus, is testimony that Syria was right all along! Jumblatt will have to work hard from here on to sustain his relationship with Hizbullah, since that is the channel through which his road to Damascus will run. What is assuring today is that these difficult days are seemingly gone, never to return—never that is—in a million years